Thursday, 13 August 2009

Happy memories

Some initial results from Prof Wiseman's happiness experiment were announced yesterday. It seems that on average we, as a nation, were about 7% more cheerful at the end of last week compared to the beginning of the week. So there. This was determined by way of a couple of polls undertaken at the start and end of the week. Of course, it's not possible to determine how much, if any, of this increase in the nation's happiness might be attributed to the science of happiness experiment.

Participants in the study were assigned to one of five conditions. Four of these groups were asked to spend a few moments each day engaged in an exercise that previous research had indicated might influence feelings of happiness. One group was asked to use those moments to focus on expressing gratitude for one thing in their lives (this is the group I was assigned to) while a second group spent the time simply smiling. A third group was asked to carry out an act of kindness and the fourth group was instructed to recall a pleasant event from the day before. The remaining participants were in a 'control' group in which they were asked to just think about the previous day's events.

More than 26,000 people took part and it would seem that reported levels of happiness in all groups, including the control group, increased over the course of the week. So everyone's a winner! The biggest increase was seen in the group asked to recall a pleasant event from the day before. They showed a 15% rise in reported happiness over and above the folks in the control condition.

The difficulty is that even if these kinds of exercises do have an impact upon perceived happiness, and the initial results from this study seem to suggest they do, then the effects are likely to be rather transient and so many other things will have a far greater impact on our how we feel on a particular day. And are we dealing with underlying 'happiness' or whether we're in a good mood?

Still hats off to Richard for attempting such an ambitious project!


  1. *And are we dealing with underlying 'happiness' or whether we're in a good mood?*

    I would go with the latter.A person changes how they feel day to day so their responses would reflect that.

  2. True. Although the questionnaire did ask how you happy you had generally felt over the past week.

  3. I think the same applies though since people may be having a bad few weeks.Their perceptions of how they view life would change from normal.
    Its still a good experiment though as even if only upbeat people took part there is still room to feel happier.