Can't buy happiness? Mental health is strongest predictor of contentment, study says
The 'Origins of Happiness' study, conducted by a team of researchers at the London School of Economics (LSE), analyzed data from the US, UK, Germany, and Australia. It found that although average incomes have more than doubled over the past 50 years, people have not become any happier. Additionally, income inequality was found to explain just 1 percent of happiness variations.
Instead, the biggest single predictor of happiness was mental health, explaining over 4 percent of happiness variations.
The researchers found that eliminating depression and anxiety could reduce misery by 20 percent, compared to just 5 percent if poverty was alleviated.
“Tackling depression and anxiety would be four times as effective as tackling poverty,” report co-author Richard Layard said, as quoted by the Guardian.
The second largest predictor of happiness was being in a relationship. Equally, those who lost a partner by separation or death were found to experience similar margins of reduced happiness.
"The evidence shows that the things that matter most for our happiness and for our misery are our social relationships and our mental and physical health. This demands a new role for the state – not 'wealth creation' but 'wellbeing creation,'" Layard said.
He went on to state that although governments have taken on poverty, unemployment, education, and physical health in the past, issues such as domestic violence, alcoholism, depression and anxiety conditions, alienated youth, and “exam-mania” are now equally important.
"These should become center stage," Layard said.
The study also found that education has little impact on life satisfaction, with the researchers citing concern about obsession with exams.
“How on Earth did so many policy-makers come to believe that qualifications were the be-all and end-all – ‘in the interests of the child?'" the researchers said, as quoted by the Independent.
The British researchers went on to offer solutions for the UK, including an expansion of existing schemes and new measures aimed at tackling mental illness.
They cited success from a program operated by Britain's National Health Service (NHS) which they believe "costs the government nothing," due to financial flowbacks obtained through higher employment and increased tax receipts, combined with a reduction in NHS costs from fewer GP visits and hospital A&E admissions.
They also advised politicians to invest in preventative measures, including a "four-year curriculum called Healthy Minds, one lesson a week."
The researchers are scheduled to present their findings for the first time on Monday, during a wellbeing conference co-organized by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on Monday and Tuesday.