A Secret to Happiness

A Secret to Happiness

The FINANCIAL -- What makes a person satisfied with their life?  This question is obviously too big to be answered by any one study, or even the whole field of opinion research, for that matter. If we look closely, though, the most recent European Values Survey may give us some hints.

 

The EVS is a decennial survey that asks questions on a wide variety of social topics, and is carried out in the Caucasus by the Georgian member of Gallup International - GORBI.  Its questions include several different measures of happiness, or “satisfaction,” as well as self-assessed behavioral tendencies that we can analyze to find out what attitudes and behaviors are connected to an overall feeling of satisfaction.  For this analysis, we will discuss how answers to the question “All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life as a whole these days?” relate to some other attitudes and behaviors.

Respondents were asked to place themselves on a 1-10 “life satisfaction scale,” where 1 was dissatisfied and 10 was satisfied. Georgians were much less satisfied than average, but perhaps learning the secrets of the Northern Irish and Luxembourgers can help us to be more satisfied.  The first step, it seems, is to avoid politics at all costs.


Politics, Politics

Simply observing the average political argument might give you the hint that people who involve themselves in political discussion frequently become more frustrated or unsatisfied on the whole.  These data pretty clearly support the idea: those who said they discuss politics with friends “frequently” were .12 points below the mean life satisfaction rate, whereas those who said they “never” engaged in political discussion were .12 more satisfied.

We also gave our respondents, politically inclined and not, the opportunity to weigh in on the reasons for neediness.  We asked “Why are there people in this country who live in need?” and gave them four options: “because they are unlucky,” “because of laziness and lack of willpower,” “because of injustice in our society,” and “it’s an inevitable part of modern progress.”  It’s somewhat surprising to find that those who said the problems of the needy were the result of their own laziness were actually more satisfied with life on the whole.
Respondents who felt that modern economic advancement unavoidably has victims were also more satisfied, .31 points above the mean. Those who felt luck plays the primary role were slightly less happy than the mean, but those who found fault in society’s injustice were the least happy.


Howdy Neighbor

We asked respondents who they would not like to have as neighbors, as well.  As it turns out, this can be pretty well connected to your overall life satisfaction.  Those who mentioned that they prefer distance from homosexuals were the most unsatisfied relative to the mean (-.50), along with those who mentioned AIDS patients (-.44) or other races (-.41).  In fact, with one interesting exception, mentioning any particular group of people as undesirable correlates to a drop in mean satisfaction.  Either “loving thy neighbor” leads to happiness, or those who are happy are accepting of a wider variety of company.

The exception that I mentioned, if you could guess from the first half of this article, is one of an anti-political mindset.  Respondents who said they’d rather not live near right or left wing extremists were actually slightly more satisfied than their peers.
So it seems that one small secret of happiness is simple: avoid politics and political extremists.  At least on a population level, it makes life a little comfortable.

For this analysis, Georgian Opinion Research Business International had direct access to data from 12 countries in the Caucasus and Eastern Europe, making the sample size just under 19,000.  Visit our website at gorbi.com