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Governments should take happiness more seriously

20 Mar 2019 | Action for Happiness

Strict Embargo: 05.00am 20th March 2019

Governments should take happiness more seriously than economic measures if they want to stay in power, says UN-backed Report

WHR 2019 Image

  • 7th World Happiness Report released on the United Nations International Day of Happiness 20th March 2019
  • Research on voting habits shows happy people are more likely to vote to keep governments in power
  • Finland retains 1st place in happiness rankings; UK rises 4 places to 15th
  • Unhappy people were more likely to vote for Brexit and Trump
  • Action for Happiness helps increase happiness in local communities
  • Social media is making young people unhappy

The World Happiness Report, released to mark the International Day of Happiness on 20th March, has found that happy people are more likely to vote to keep an incumbent government in power, while social media is making young people unhappier.

The report's international ranking places Finland in the number one spot for the second year running, while the UK has risen 4 places, from 19th to 15th.

Research summarised in the report shows that happier people are not only more likely to engage in politics and vote, but are also more likely to vote for incumbent parties. Increases in national happiness were shown to be a better predictor that a government will be re-elected than conventional economic indicators such as GDP growth, unemployment and inflation.

Comparing changes in wellbeing with changes in macroeconomic indicators, a one standard deviation increase in national life satisfaction is associated with around 6% gain for incumbent parties (and nearly an 8% increase in cabinet vote share), whereas an equivalent increase in economic growth is associated with only around 3% gain for incumbent parties.

In the last US Presidential election and the EU referendum, unhappy people were more likely to vote for change rather than for the status quo. People who were dissatisfied with life overall were around 2.5 percentage points more likely to answer Yes to the question of whether the UK should leave the European Union. In the US, 3.4% of people had very low wellbeing in areas where the swing to Trump was less than 10%; but this more than doubled to over 7.1% reporting very low wellbeing in areas where the swing to Trump was more than 10%. The data suggests there is a significant incentive for incumbent governments seeking re-election to look beyond GDP and prioritise policies that increase the happiness of the electorate.

Professor Richard Layard from the London School of Economics, one of the authors of the World Happiness Report, co-founded charity Action for Happiness to help promote national wellbeing and encourage governments to take wellbeing measures into account when developing policy.

Action for Happiness has a community of 130,000 members who are taking action to build a happier society, including a network of over 100 Happy Cafes across the UK. Its members run science-based courses and events to help people explore what really matters in life and develop skills to increase their own and other people's happiness. Prof. Layard has spent much of his career working on how to improve people's quality of life and was one of the first economists globally to study happiness.

Professor Richard Layard said:

"If governments want to stay in power they should take the happiness of the people more seriously than economic measures. This is a vitally important finding - perhaps one of the most significant in a generation. It's essential that our leaders look beyond narrow financial measures and focus on the wider set of factors that really affect the wellbeing of the nation - and especially mental health".

Dr Mark Williamson, CEO of Action for Happiness said:

"Today's report shows how important happiness is as a measure of social progress. Economic indicators like GDP and unemployment are part of a wider picture and we need to focus more on the things that really matter - so we can create a society where everyone has the chance to flourish and no-one gets left behind. Whether you're a political decision maker or someone coming to an Action for Happiness community course, we can all benefit from prioritising good mental health and helping to build stronger and more trusting communities".

According to Action for Happiness, science shows happiness is something that we all have the ability to cultivate. The charity suggests simple daily acts of happiness and kindness which are based on the latest research in positive psychology, neuroscience, behavioural economics and biology. These actions, delivered through an app and online calendar, support people to feel happier and increase the happiness of other people around them.

Positive Psychology Expert Vanessa King of Action for Happiness said:

"Daily nudges you get through the app might be to ring an old friend or to ask everyone you meet what is going well in their lives. An important part of happiness is giving; actions for this would be to pay for the cup of coffee of the person behind you in the queue; or to write three thank you notes to people who have done something to help you recently; or have a chat to an elderly neighbour or homeless person. These simple acts of kindness stimulate the reward centre of the brain and help both the giver and receiver to feel happier which can boost trust in our society."

The World Happiness Report also highlighted that since 2012 the amount of time young people in the US spend on social media has increased significantly, with 17-18 year-olds spending over 6 hours a day on three activities, the internet, social media and texting. Time spent sleeping and on face to face social interactions has decreased as happiness has decreased. The report highlighted that girls spending 5 or more hours a day on social media are three times more likely to be depressed than non-users and heavy internet users are twice as likely to be unhappy.

The United Nations International Day of Happiness is being celebrated online and at events around the globe. The day is coordinated by Action for Happiness via the dayofhappiness.net campaign site. Supporters are encouraged to take part by carrying out acts of kindness and sharing what makes them happy on social media using the hashtag #InternationalDayOfHappiness. This year's theme is Happier Together, focusing on what we have in common, rather than what divides us.



Notes to Editors

The 2019 World Happiness Report will be published at on 20th March 2019 at http://worldhappiness.report

For interviews, further comment and information please contact: Sarah Vero, Head of Communications Action for Happiness: 07414 639227 sarah.vero@actionforhappiness.org

Action for Happiness is a movement with 130,000 members and over a million followers online. Its patron is the Dalai Lama and it has no commercial, political or religious affiliations.

Action for Happiness promotes the Ten Keys to Happier Living that are underpinned by the latest research in positive psychology. It also provides daily actions people can take to be happier and kinder through its app and online calendar, used by millions of people.

It's flagship 8-week Exploring What Matters course has been run in over 250 locations and attended by many thousands of people. It also hosts regular public events, supports a network of Happy Cafes and provides resources for schools and organisations.



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