The ONS has released its latest findings into the biggest contributors to British life satisfaction.
How well are we all doing? That question matters: most humans think improving happiness and quality of life is a good thing. But it’s difficult to answer.
Until recently, the go-to statistic for quizzical economists and politicians was their country’s gross domestic product (GDP). GDP calculates how rich a country is by adding up the price of everything it created that year.
You can also divide a country’s GDP by its population (called GDP per capita) to figure out how much wealth there is to go around. On the assumption that the richer people are the better off they are, economists have long used GDP per capita to estimate how well the average, say, Brit is doing.
Unfortunately, there are a couple of really big problems with this method. The first is that averages can be deceiving because they don’t portray inequality well. The UK’s GDP per capita is £35,000. But that’s not a good representation of the financial situation of the UK’s richest 10 percent of households (average wealth: £1.25 million) or its poorest 10 percent (average wealth: £14,000). Wealth here, btw, refers not just to the contents of your bank account but all the stuff of value that you own - like a house or car or diamonds.
Having a higher household income did increase your chance of being happy, but only very slightly. Much more likely to up wellbeing was being married, having kids in the house and owning a home outright (i.e. not be paying off a mortgage).
But the single most important thing was how healthy we feel. Someone in ‘very good’ health is eighteen times more likely to be satisfied with their life than someone in ‘very bad’ health. That makes sense. Being unwell feels awful. It can also make it difficult or impossible for us to participate in other things we enjoy, and puts a strain on our finances and relationships with loved ones.
…So where next? Not only do economic ideas shape the institutions and communities we live in, they also influence our own ideas of personal success – be it earning well, achieving a ‘Dr.’ or ‘CEO’ at the front of our label, or living a sustainable life. But what with the speed at which technology is transforming our economies, we can barely predict what ‘s in store for our economies and where we’ll fit in…