Happiness is…

Happiest is a woman, living without a partner in a small town in Queensland, who is not poor and who exercises every day.

This might be her. He looks happy too!


You can read about the latest Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey (HILDA) at the ABC, with Aisha Dow at the SMH, at The Guardian, and with Lucy Battersby at the SMH.

Some key points (from the ABC):

  • Men are more satisfied with their partners than women
  • People who live in towns of fewer than 1,000 people enjoy higher levels of life satisfaction
  • Women living in Queensland appear to be the happiest
  • People in de facto living arrangements are more satisfied with their partners
  • Happiness wanes the longer a relationship lasts and once children arrive.

Living with a partner increases men’s general health as well as happiness, but not women’s. Generally, the longer the duration of a relationship, the lower the satisfaction, except after 20 or more years of marriage. De facto relationships don’t last as long as marriages, but are happier. Presumably if people are unhappy, they break up.

In the survey, apart from women in Queensland little difference could be found between the relative happiness of residents of the various states and territories. Survey author Professor Roger Wilkins put that down to a fairly even distribution of economic success and wellbeing across the nation.

The reason for women being happy in Queensland is unclear. It is suggested that the weather is a factor, or could it be Queensland men?!

The Conversation has a whole series of articles on happiness.

This one thinks happiness is largely a matter of surviving well together. It identifies five elements of well-being:

    Well-being is about the combination of our love for what we do each day, the quality of our relationships, the security of our finances, the vibrancy of our physical health, and the pride we take in what we have contributed to our communities. Most importantly, it’s about how these five elements interact.

I have always been suspicious of the notion that happiness should be pursued directly, as in “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”, the foundational value from the United States Declaration of Independence. Sidney Bloch thinks the pursuit of happiness is an illusion and it is better to look for what he calls contentment.

Thomas Willian Nielsen thinks:

    the pursuit of happiness for its own sake might be a futile and even counterproductive enterprise. It has also been pointed out that happiness, however important to us, is merely a beneficial side-effect of a eudaimonic approach to pursuing a life of meaning. (Emphasis added)

The eudaimonic approach

    focuses on meaning and self-realization and defines well-being in terms of the degree to which a person is fully functioning.

It contrasts with the hedonic approach, “which focuses on happiness and defines well-being in terms of pleasure attainment and pain avoidance.”

I take from this, not so much Nielsen’s notion of giving, rather of fully engaging, and for a significant portion of our time, in activities that contribute in some way to the common good. Nielsen would like to see us “situating altruism and generous behaviour in evidence-based theory and practice, rather than solely in ideology and religion.” In other words, the identification of ‘meaning’ and the ‘greater good’ is not subjective and arbitrary.

James Arvanitakis reminds us that it is a rough old world out there. Our government sends asylum seekers off to concentration camps as punishment, one in 200 people suffer homelessness. Domestic violence is rife.

In the face of this, the pursuit of happiness can seem trivial or juvenile.

Happiness is not an “end point”, a place to which we travel, he says, nor does it arise out of a checklist or series of exercises. Happiness is not an individual pursuit, rather through engagement in community, with love, in the rough and the smooth, happiness will emerge along the way.

What these articles miss, I think, is that we do need to work on our selves as a project along the way.

Back to the HILDA Survey, Ben Potter in the AFR looks at what the survey said about inequality. In contrast with the US and Britain, equality had not increased between 2001 and 2012. Market incomes had diverged, but the welfare system was counterbalancing this. Something called “equivalised individual disposable incomes” within the household retained the same Gini rating.

On this basis our Gini index (the lower the better) had remained at just over 30 throughout, a bit worse than a number of European countries, but nowhere near the Americans at 45 where they purue happiness directly.

Welfare dependency had not increased. While poverty had decreased overall it had increased for children under 18, single mothers and single males. But there was no welfare crisis, our welfare system is working.

Something we can be happy about.

11 thoughts on “Happiness is…”

  1. So it’s not a married, gay man, living in inner-city Melbourne with 3 adopted kids ?
    That’s Shocking !!

    Someone alert Di Nutella, quick !!

    The greens will have to rebalance their policies in accordance with the Science.

  2. Jumpy: Di Natali lives on a farm with his family. Perhaps he doesn’t need your advice?
    I hope this doesn’t hurt your little feelings and make you unhappy . Wouldn’t be a good thing to do in a post on happiness.

  3. John

    I was making fun of their policies not their leader.

    And I’m of the ” sticks and stones ” order.
    Both feelings and happiness levels are A-OK.

  4. Someone alert Di Nutella, quick !!

    I was making fun of their policies not their leader.

    Yeah, right.

  5. I play the ball and not the man, zoot, remember ?
    The Nuttela reference was like ” a jar of nuttiness “, I shudder to think why you think it’s a gay reference.

  6. Jumpy:

    So it’s not a married, gay man, living in inner-city Melbourne with 3 adopted kids ?
    That’s Shocking !!

    You cant get a statistically significant sample of these people while the country bans gay marriage – so who knows whether they are happy?

  7. I note one set of results ( SMH, 4th link )
    Happiest Male = Wife has year 12 or below education.
    Happiest Female = Partner has year 12 or below education .
    Unhappiest Male = Partner has post-school education.
    Unhappiest Female = Husband is tertiary educated.

    Conclusion – Universities are bad for Happiness and nobody likes a smartarse.

  8. If nobody loves a smartarse Jumpy you have a problem.

    My own research indicates that it is possible to to be a happy educated man married to a happy educated woman.

  9. John

    If nobody loves a smartarse Jumpy you have a problem.

    Aaawww, ease up mate.

    My own research indicates that it is possible to to be a happy educated man married to a happy educated woman.

    Well, anything is possible, but we’re talking about most probable.
    And you surveying your wife compared to HILDA doing it may come up with different results.
    Best take her for an outing, can’t hurt, like I just did with mine.
    We men must fight complacency.
    Oh, flowers too, for some bizarre reason they like that.

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