Money can't buy happiness

May 03 2006 by Nic Paton Print This Article

Our societies may have become richer in pure wealth terms during the past 50 years but this has done nothing to improve our levels of happiness, a study has found.

The research for the BBC has found that happiness levels in the UK and elsewhere are declining and more personal wealth has not brought with it more wellbeing.

The proportion of people in the UK saying they are "very happy" is now 36 per cent, compared with 52 per cent in 1957.

The poll by GfK NOP found 56 per cent considered themselves "fairly happy", but five per cent were "fairly unhappy" and three per cent "very unhappy".

A similar poll by Gallup in 1957 found that 52 per cent were very happy and 42 per cent fairly happy.

The poll, for a BBC TV series called The Happiness Factor, is the first evidence that Britain's happiness levels are declining, something already well documented in the U.S.

While people living in poverty tend to be unhappy, the psychological effect of wealth appears to stop once basic material needs are met. Thereafter, expectations rise with incomes, and happiness remains out of reach, a phenomenon that London School of Economics economist Richard Layard has termed the "hedonic treadmill".

According to Professor Layard, this effect kicks it at a surprisingly low income level of some £8,000 ($13,000) per annum.

When researchers asked whether the prime objective of government should be the "greatest happiness" or the "greatest wealth", eight out of 10 said they wanted happiness.

Almost half of those questioned pointed to relationships as the most important factor in finding happiness, with good health coming second.

Nearly half of married people said they were happy compared to a quarter of single people.

Switzerland was found to be happiest country, followed by Denmark, Sweden, Ireland and the U.S, with Britain coming eighth.

However the tiny Himalayian state of Bhutan remains the only nation that places happiness above wealth, measureing Gross Domestic Happiness rather than GDP.