July 24 On happiness
Four months pass. We remain fit and well-fed. But do we know we are happy?
Few ask that question unless the answer is likely to be a negative. And those that do find it difficult to consult any objective evidence.
However the pandemic has provoked a wide range of studies in the social sciences as well as medicine. The largest of these, the Covid-19 Social Study run by a team at University College London, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, has been addressing the question of happiness in a series of reports.
The latest of these, published on 16th July, provides further evidence on the incidence of happiness across British society. The study deploys the methodology of the government’s official body, the Office for National Statistics which regularly measures personal well-being under four headings: Life satisfaction; Feeling the things done in life are Worthwhile; Happiness; and Anxiety. Like Spinal Tap’s amplifiers, total well-being scores 11 on a 1-11 point scale.
The Covid-19 study, which is concentrating on the experience of the lockdown, finds that overall happiness, though starting at a lower base than pre-lockdown, has been slowly but consistently rising over the period between 21 April and 14 July.*
More interesting are the variations by condition. You are more likely to be happy if you are:
Older: we struggle against the label, but have had to wear it through the crisis
Live with company: we have each other and we know we are not amongst the one in four couples reported in another study whose relationships have come under pressure in the crisis.**
Have higher than average household income: there is much to be said for receiving a public sector, final salary pension on retirement; one of the last such pensions ever likely to be paid in this stressed economy.
Have no underlying mental health conditions: which is our good fortune.
Live in a rural area: as we do.
The only qualification is that the Welsh and Scottish are slightly happier than the English. But Wales is in view from the bottom of the garden, and my wife considers herself entirely Scottish, so we can work around that disability.
Still I wonder if I know what it is that I have.
And then, just after breakfast this morning, the phone rang. My younger daughter was in a car with her husband and two children on their way from London to Holyhead to catch the ferry to Ireland where her mother-in-law has a house by the sea in Cork. They were ahead of time, had changed their route, and would be calling on us within the hour (we live a couple of miles from the old Holyhead Road).
And so, for the first time since Christmas, we saw them in the flesh. The children, escaped from the car, played in the garden. If we could not embrace, we could at least talk face to face as we sat around a table in a rare burst of sunshine.
That was happiness.
* Covid-19 Social Study Results Release 16 15th July 2020
**Source: 1,241 people with a partner were surveyed by Censuswide on behalf of Relate between 9 and 14 April 2020.