1. Surveys in Britain and the U.S. show that people are no happier now than in the 1950s – despite massive economic growth.
2. Some societies are much happier than others. For example, if Britain was as happy as Denmark, we would have 2.5 million fewer people who were not very happy and 5 million more who were very happy.
3. Trust is a major determinant of happiness in a society. Levels of trust vary widely between countries. The percentage of people who say “Most people can be trusted” is only 30 per cent of people in the U.K. and U.S., compared to 60 per cent some 40 years ago. But in Scandinavia the level is still over 60 per cent, and these are the happiest countries too.
4. Economic stability has a large effect on the happiness of society, while long-term economic growth has little. Unemployment reduces happiness by as much as bereavement.
5. People’s happiness can be permanently altered. Surveys show that for many people long periods of unhappiness are followed by long periods of happiness.
6. The most important external factors affecting individual happiness are human relationships. In every society, family or other close relationships are the most important, followed by relationships at work and the community. The most important internal factor is mental health. For example, if we take 34 year olds, their mental health at age 26 explains four times more of their present happiness than their income does.
7. The subjective levels of happiness which people report are well correlated with objective measures of brain activity. They are well correlated with friends’ reports, with obvious causes (like unemployment) and with subsequent behaviour (like quitting a job or a marriage)
8. Doing good is one of the best ways to feel good. People who care more about others are happier than those who care less about others. When people do good, their brain becomes active in the same reward centre as where they experience other rewards.
9. Empathy is a part of our nature. If a friend suffers an electric shock, it hurts in exactly the same point of the brain as if you yourself suffer an electric shock.
10. Being paid can detract from the pleasure of giving. For example, if people interested in giving blood are divided into two groups, one of which is paid if they give blood and the other is not, more of those who arenotpaid decide to give blood.
11. Studies have shown that giving money away tends to make people happier than spending it on themselves.
12. The proportion of U.S.students who think that it is essential or very important to develop a meaningful philosophy of life has fallen from 65% in the 1960s to 45% today.
13. Surveys of mental health in many countries show no improvement and in some cases worsening. In Britain the proportion of adolescents with emotional or behavioural problems is twice as high as in the 1970s.
14. New psychological therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy can transform lives. Within 4 months a half of people suffering from clinical depression or lifelong anxiety will return to normality.
15. People who take 8 sessions of mindfulness meditation training will on average be 20 percentage points happier one month later than a control group and have better responses in their immune system. Such training can lead to structural brain changes including increased grey-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection.
16. In an experiment, individuals with a positive outlook were less likely to get flu when exposed to the virus.
17. Our happiness influences the people we know and the people they know. Research shows that the happiness of a close contact increases the chance of being happy by 15%. The happiness of a 2nd-degree contact (e.g. friend’s spouse) increases it by 10% and the happiness of a 3rd-degree contact (e.g. friend of a friend of a friend) by 6%.
18. Most people think that if they become successful, then they’ll be happy. But recent discoveries in psychology and neuroscience show that this formula is backward: happiness fuels success, not the other way around. When we’re positive, our brains are more motivated, engaged, creative, energetic, resilient, and productive.
19. Positive emotions – like joy, interest, pride and gratitude – don’t just feel good in the moment – they also affect our long term well-being. Research shows that experiencing positive emotions in a 3-to-1 ratio to negative ones leads to a tipping point beyond which we naturally become more resilient to adversity and better able to achieve things. The evidence linking an upbeat outlook to increased longevity is actually stronger than the evidence linking obesity to reduced longevity.
20. Happiness follows a U shape across the lifecycle, on average: we are happier when young and old and least happy in middle age.