Study Shows the Things That Make Us Happy Have Changed Immensely in the Last 80 Years

Apparently, what made us happy 80 years ago just isn’t cutting it anymore.

Psychologist Sandie McHugh from the University of Bolton has recreated a famous study of happiness that was conducted in Bolton in 1938. 

Back in ’38, Mass Observation placed an advertisement in the Bolton Evening News asking readers to answer the question “What is happiness?” A total of 226 people answered the call, and they were asked to create a happiness index by rating the importance of ten factors.

The factors ranged from beauty and security all the way to religion.
Fast forward to 2014: McHugh and Professor Jerome Carson set out to recreate the Mass Observation study. Using the Bolton News, they asked people around town to complete a very similar survey to that of 1938.  

The two surveys revealed some pretty different results. Just like the world looks different than it did 80 years ago, so do our ideas of happiness.

In 1938, security, knowledge, and religion were the three most important aspects of happiness to participants. In 2014, security was still in the top three (and probably always will be), but good humour and leisure made the first and second rankings, respectively. 

Not too surprisingly, religion had fallen from third place in 1938 to last place in 2014. Another difference is that the majority of people in 1938 said they were happiest when they were in Bolton. On the other hand, in 2014, 63 per cent said they were happier when they were out of town (then again, travel is a lot more accessible now than it was back then). 

“The overall impression from the correspondence in 1938 is that happiness factors were rooted in everyday lives at home and within the community. In 2014 many comments value family and friends, with good humour and leisure time also ranked highly,” said McHugh.
Here are just a few examples of how people viewed happiness in 1938, and in 2014:

“Enough money to meet everyday needs and a little for pleasure.” (1938)

“Knowing that my rent is paid on time and I can afford to eat healthily.” (2014)

“I would like a little home, not many possessions … congenial and satisfying companionship, the availability of good music and books.” (1938)

“Engaging in my hobbies, spending time that is free of worry … Simple things like enjoying a nice meal or receiving care and affection.” (2014)

“When I come home from the pit and see my kiddies and wife, I am happy.” (1938)

“Simple things like going out for a walk…….you don’t need tons of material things to be happy, you just have to be happy in the place you live and with the people around you.” (2014) 

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