Changing face of happiness

Things were different back in 1938; in 1938 underwear was always worn underneath, a phone was something that you had to run to instead of it running you, and email was a typo. In 1938 the Academy Award winner for best actress was Luis Rainer, in 2014 it was Cate Blanchett. In 1938 the winner for best film was “The Life of Emile Zola”, in 2014 the winner was “12 Years a Slave”. In 1938 the top ranked song on the billboard chart was Artie Shaw’s “Begin the Beguine”, and in 2014 the top song was Pharrell Williams’ “Happy”. Of course this difference in song preference doesn’t mean that in 1938 people were fascinated by wordplay while in 2014 we are obsessed with happiness. Of course, happiness has always been a human concern, but as a new study has shown what was happiness in 1938 is different to the happiness of 2014 (and 2015).

The new study was conducted in Bolton, UK, where in 1938 an advertisement was placed in the Bolton Evening News asking readers to answer the question, “What is happiness?” The answers were collated and those who responded were asked to help compile an index of factors that contribute to happiness. Then in 2014 researchers repeated the survey again drawing contributors with an ad in the Bolton News (apparently news consumption is not restricted to the evening any more). The results allowed a good comparison of how perceptions of happiness had changed in 80 years.

In 1938 the three most important contributors to happiness were regarded as security, knowledge and religion. In 2014 that list had become good humour, leisure and security. It seems security is a bit of constant in human happiness although it has dipped a little in 2014, and it appears the need for knowledge has been made redundant by access to search engines. Interestingly, religion dropped to 10th place on the 2014 list, which was also last place.

Another major difference between the two surveys was that in 1938 the majority of people said they were happiest when they were in Bolton whereas, in 2014, the majority said they were happier when they were away from the town. This is probably less of a comment on Bolton than it is on the mobile nature of the modern person.

A few quotes from the study add humanity to it all. From 1938 came, “Enough money to meet everyday needs and a little for pleasure” and “When I come home from the pit and see my kiddies and my wife I am happy”. From 2014 we find, “Knowing my rent is paid on time and I can afford to eat healthy” and “You don’t have to have tonnes of material things to be happy, you just have to be happy in the place you live and with the people around you”.

Songs and movie fashions change, but while how we express it or look for it may alter, happiness is always in fashion.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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