By Richard Jenkins and Oksana Kishchuk
“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence” Aristotle
Happiness is a deeply personal emotion. But, like values, it is key shaper of human behaviour. We pursue happiness. The decisions we take about our relationships, products and services we buy, and even our political decisions are all shaped by how we are feeling. It motivates behaviour both positively and negatively.
It is well-agreed that happiness, or the pursuit thereof, is an aspiration for nearly all. Yet to tangibly define the concept is difficult, as it can vary greatly from person to person, and even by life stage for the same individual. While the path to happiness may differ from person to person, it is key in shaping our behaviour. How we engage with others, politics, and business, and what we choose do, purchase, and perceive are all driven by happiness.
National happiness has real political consequences. Happy people are more likely to be engaged in politics, less likely to vote for populist or extremist, anti-system parties, and more supportive of social policies. Recognizing the importance of happiness has led some governments to produce national well-being statistics and put increasing the happiness of their public high on the goals of government policy.
Happiness is also an important driver for behaviours. Happy parents are better parents. Happy people give more to charity and to others. Happy people are more generous. Happy people get more exercise, eat more healthily and live longer. Happy people are more resilient.
Happy people also shop and make consumer decisions differently than unhappy people. Our mood affects the types of products and services we may be interested in, but it also influences our decision-making when we are faced with a choice.
And while perhaps it goes without saying, the conversation about happiness is also important because of its relationship with our mental health. Understanding happiness can help us better understand the need for mental health services and supports, and show the valuable return on investment.
To understand the impacts of and drivers of happiness, we have created the Abacus Data Happiness Monitor. By uncovering what drives happiness, and measuring the state of happiness, we want to explore the impacts happiness has on our lives, our choices and our behaviors. It is also important to watch how happiness changes in response to events. Will a vaccine produce a bump in happiness?
Over the next few weeks we will be fielding the Abacus Data Happiness Monitor, looking at how our national happiness is shifting over time, and examine it’s impacts on the above.
To start, one of the key questions we will be asking is self-reported happiness. In our latest survey we found that Canadians are moderately happy, reporting an average happiness score of 6.3 out of 10. How this differs by demographic, impacts political perceptions, drives consumer behaviour and reflects the state of our mental health will all be explored in upcoming releases.
Aside from a self assessment of happiness, we also want to understand what drives it. What makes you happy? A personal triumph, a strong connection to others, or is it something else?
It turns out that a good proxy for happiness is whether you are living life to the fullest. While few Canadians completely reject this assumption about their lives, few also feel like they are embracing it. No wonder that self-rated happiness is only at 6.3 on the 10 point scale.
Consider that among those most confident they are living life to the fullest have an average self-rated happiness score is 8.1 out of 10. It is a strong relationship.
Our thoughts about life and personal emotional state are not, however, completely internal. Our interactions with others also have an impact.
Unlike, a sense of fulfillment, most Canadians can say that they feel fulfilled by their relationships with others.
Those who are more content with their relationships are, on average, more happy. The self-assessed happiness score of those with a high-degree of fulfillment is 7.6.
This also extends to our relationship and outlook on the wider world, and conversely, just as much as one factor can drive up a self-assessed happiness score, other factors can bring it down.
A large majority of Canadians are not happy with the state of the world and this is providing a drag on happiness. In fact, only 18% reject the idea that they are not happy with the state of the world.
The drag on happiness is clear. While it many not be as strong as internal drivers of happiness those who agree express dissatisfaction with the state of the world are much less likely to be personally happy.
The results show the power of happiness as a multi-dimensional indicator of our internal and external life. Even in the midst of a pandemic, Canadians lean to the positive. Of course, the pandemic might be the very thing that is preventing us from living life to the fullest and thus eroding happiness in Canada.
To subscribe to updates and releases on the Happiness Monitor, click here.
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The survey was conducted with 1,500 residents of Canada aged 18 and older from October 20th to 25th 2020. A random sample of panelists were invited to complete the survey from a set of partner panels based on the Lucid exchange platform. These partners are typically double opt-in survey panels, blended to manage out potential skews in the data from a single source.
The margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of the same size is +/- 2.5%, 19 times out of 20.
The data were weighted according to census data to ensure that the sample matched Canada’s population according to age, gender, educational attainment, and region. Totals may not add up to 100 due to rounding.