Most people are wrong about the things that will make them happy, according to Professor Paul Dolan, author of Happiness by Design, who says it’s actually quite simple. According to happiness expert Professor Dolan, smaking simple changes are the key to bringing joy and purpose into your life. Dolan, a professor at the London School of Economics and government advisor on how to make the population more contented, claims that many of the things people believe will make them happy are fleeting and can actually alter their lives in a negative way.
The happiest countries
This year’s World Happiness Report ranked Finland in first place for the fourth year in a row. It is followed closely by Switzerland, Iceland, and The Netherlands, pushing other previously high-ranking Scandinavian countries out of the top spots. All of the top four countries rank highly on all the main factors found to support happiness: caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income and good governance. Measures including social support, personal freedom, gross domestic product (GDP) and levels of corruption were also factored in. Having risen to 13th place last year, the UK fell back down to 17th in this latest report.
However, 80% of the variance of happiness across the world occurs within countries. In richer countries the within-country differences are not mainly explained by income inequality, but by differences in mental health, physical health and personal relationships: the biggest single source of misery is mental illness. Work is also a major factor affecting happiness. Unemployment causes a major fall in happiness, and even for those in work the quality of work can cause major variations in happiness. And beyond a salary of £50,000, studies have shown that nobody gets any happier with extra money.
Increasing your happiness
Professor Dolan says we should be more attentive to our goals and not squander our time. Instead, he advocates small changes that add purpose and pleasure to our lives and has suggested five steps to immediately make you happier. See what you think – do you agree? Could you add more of these to your life?
1. Listening to a favourite piece of music – I don’t know who doesn’t like music but I am sure we all like different types. Listening to music arouses the brain and has a substantial effect on your mood.
2. Spending five more minutes with someone you like – the point here is to just spend more time with friends and family as these day-to-day relationships are the most valuable.
3. Going outdoors – a common theme amongst the happiest countries was ‘the great outdoors’.
4. Helping someone else – I have worked with many clients who have set up charitable trusts or are involved in fundraising, and it is generally recognised that the act of giving enhances your own wellbeing. As a result of planning work, I have helped clients reduce their commitment to full-time work in order pursue their charitable interests.
5. Having a new experience or learning a new subject. This can really broaden our perspective on life and open our minds to new ventures or adventures. One of my clients decided to go back to university and take up a coaching course, so that she could combine her working skills in recruitment and headhunting to launch a career coaching business for those looking for a change in career. Professor Dolan says, “The great thing about experiences is they actually slow time down. It’s why life feels so slow for children – they are experiencing new things all the time. So if you want to slow down time then have as many new experiences as you can.”
To reinforce this, Age UK’s Index of Wellbeing in Later Life shows that children, intergenerational relationships and avoiding divorce have little to do with achieving contentment. By contrast, cultural participation and physical activities are the most significant factors in quality of life for the over-60s.
This piece originally appeared in our managing director Marlene’s 2017 book Boomers: Redefining Retirement.
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