We’ve always heard that money doesn’t buy happiness, and now there’s scientific evidence to support it. A new study from the London School of Economics (LSE) has identified some of the main factors affecting individual happiness. Spoiler alert: money isn’t at the top.
Having a partner and good mental health are actually the most important keys to being happy, according to the study. These factors have a bigger impact on happiness than any economic ones, including doubling someone’s salary.
The research team presented their paper as part of a conference on subjective well-being in December that was c0-hosted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and LSE.
Researchers based their analysis on several international surveys. The surveys asked 200,000 people around the world to report how different factors affected their personal well-being.
Just having a job was much more important than that job’s salary, they concluded. Unemployment reduced individual happiness by an average of 0.7 points on a scale of 0-10. It also created “fear and unease among those in work,” which affects the entire community. By comparison, doubling a person’s income only increased their happiness by about 0.2 points.
The researchers found that mental health was the single biggest key to individual happiness, with healthy relationships a close second. Mental health challenges like depression or anxiety disorders decreased happiness by an average of 0.7 points, the same as unemployment.
The study also found that having a partner raises happiness by 0.6 points. On the other hand, losing a partner, through separation or death, reduces it by about the same amount.
“People need to be needed, and to be in meaningful relationships,” the study’s authors wrote.
These results offer some important guidance for governments that want to in improve the well-being of their people.
“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,” Richard Layard, one of the report’s co-authors, told The Guardian.
“This demands a new role for the state—not ‘wealth creation’ but ‘well-being creation,'” he added.
This means governments should expand their focus beyond on traditional issues like poverty, unemployment and education. Layard said governments should also look at problems like domestic violence, depression, alienated youth and high-pressure academic culture—which all negatively affect people’s happiness.