Very interesting to see the latest Deakin University/Australian Unity wellbeing index findings.  See here  I have been a keen follower of wellbeing research for years now, and this year’s findings showed some things we have known for years, but also showed some things which previously have not been reported.

In “the things we have known for years” category:

  • If you want to be truly happy there are three prerequisites:
    • Don’t be poor. Increasing income doesn’t make you happier if you are already financially functional, but poverty is bad for people’s wellbeing.
    • Have a purpose. Human beings need to be working toward something meaningful.  It could be to make a business successful, to look after your family, becoming a good writer – whatever, as long as it is meaningful to you.  This is what Dmitry Leontiev, the Russian positive psychologist, calls the “existential project”.  If you want to be happy, you need one of these.
    • Have good relationships. Human beings are social primates.  We can only be truly happy if we have enough high quality relationships.
  • Every person has a genetic “set point” for happiness, which is difficult to change. If I am an intrinsically happy person I tend quite quickly to return to happiness after tragedies.  Unfortunately the same goes if I am a sad person. I rapidly recur to gloom after joyful experiences.  Personality dimensions such as the Liveliness and emotionality measures of the Hexaco personality model measure this genetic predisposition.

Some things which are new:

  • In Australia fathers are happier than non-fathers. Mothers are no more happy than non-mothers.  The reason this is interesting is that overseas it has been found that parents generally are less happy than non-parents, presumably because they have to give up things which make them happy.  If you are interested in this kind of thing here is the definitive link for happiness research
  • In Western Australia as prosperity increased due to the mining boom levels of wellbeing declined. This is not a new finding – the whole western world is getting slightly sadder as our prosperity increases (eg Lane, R.E. 2000), but it is interesting to see a local, geographically focussed example.  There have been a range of theories advanced as to why this happens, but increasing isolation and a loss of meaning as we become more focussed on getting richer seem to be the most credible possibilities.
  • Teenagers are getting happier! This really is new.  We have known for years that a person who is healthy, over 55 and has the three golden characteristics mentioned above is the most likely to be happy of any demographic.  Teenagers have not caught up, but they are heading in the right direction.  Why?  It seems that this all started to change in 2007, which was the time when social media began to play a key role in people’s lives.  If you look at the third of the drivers of wellbeing above – good relationships – it’s distinctly possible that social media helps.  Adolescents tend to be very sensitive to isolation or exclusion and social media has allowed them to be more in constant contact with their friends.  This won’t be news to parents!  What I find intriguing about this finding is that there have been many sad stories of bullying, harassment and exclusion of young people over social media, but on average it seems to have made most young people happier.


Andrew Marty
Managing Director

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Lane, R.E. 2000, The Loss of Happiness in Market Democracies, New Haven: Yale University Press

Andrew Marty