What makes you happy?

This question is important to everyone, including those most concerned with urban policy (believe it or not). One answer, which emphasises the dynamic over the static, is in this paper by Dimitri Ballas and Danny Dorling, Measuring the impact of major life events upon happiness, International Journal of Epidemiology, 2007, 36(6) 1244-1252. Here’s the authors’ summary:


In recent years there have been numerous attempts to define and measure happiness in various contexts and pertaining to a wide range of disciplines, ranging from neuroscience and psychology to philosophy, economics and social policy. This article builds on recent work by economists who attempt to estimate happiness regressions using large random samples of individuals in order to calculate monetary ‘compensating amounts’ for different life ‘events’. We estimate happiness regressions using the ‘major life event’ and ‘happiness’data from the British Household Panel Survey.


The data and methods used in this article suggest that in contrast to living states such as ‘being married’, it is more events such as ‘starting a new relationship’ that have the highest positive effect on happiness. This is closely followed by ‘employment-related gains’ (in contrast to employment status). Also, women who become pregnant on average report higher than average levels of subjective happiness (in contrast to ‘being a parent’). Other events that appear to be associated with happiness according to our analysis include ‘personal education-related events’ (e.g. starting a new course, graduating from University, passing exams) and ‘finance/house related events’ (e.g. buying a new house). On the other hand, the event that has the highest negative impact upon happiness according to our analysis is ‘the end of my relationship’ closely followed by ‘death of a parent’. Adverse health events pertaining to the parents of the respondents also have a high negative coefficient and so does an employment-related loss. Read the rest of this entry »