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How can I measure my 'happiness'?

Updated: Jan 24

Unless you've been asleep for the last few years, you can't fail to have noticed the explosion of interest in "happiness" in our culture and media. Apparently there is an "unhappiness pandemic" and none of us know how to be happy in our lives.

What does happiness mean?

One of the problems with trying to measure or improve our happiness is that it is hard to pin down exactly what it means. We all know when we feel happy in the moment and we all use different words to describe it depending on the intensity of the feeling, whether it's something we feel inside or want to share with the world. I might be 'happy', 'excited', 'feeling good', 'ecstatic', 'confident', 'content' or 'relaxed'.

You might hear the phrase "true happiness" in films, which is usually hard to find until the end credits and requires us to reject a "fake" happiness which isn't as good as other people's happiness.

As you might have guessed all of this angst is really unhelpful. No one can tell me that I'm actually not happy if I am in the moment. I know what it is and can feel it. I might be ecstatic, elated or content but if someone told me it wasn't true happiness then I'd probably want to avoid them.

What about my overall happiness?

It gets trickier when we want to reflect on our "overall" happiness (Am I a happy person?). If I asked you at the end of the day how happy you were today then how would you answer? Research shows us that what guides our answer to that question is two things - our 'peak' happiness (so in other words an experience that made us so happy it's memorable and stands out) and our end of day happiness (or just before I was asked).

What's interesting about this is that we sometimes struggle to objectively know how happy we are over an extended period of time. We tend to forget positive experiences if its overshadowed by a bad one. We might underplay the little moments of happiness throughout the day and we can make ourselves 'happier' when we ask ourselves to remember them and think about the good things that happened to us.

Now imagine If I asked you to think back over the last month and tell me how happy you have been then how would you answer then? Hard isn't it?

So how do we measure our happiness?

Yet, this is the way most questionnaires and quizzes ask about your happiness. They will ask you over the last week or month to say how satisfied you've been with your life or how happy you've been. How could you remember? It's not really helpful as there's nothing to help you think about how you can improve your happiness. I just have to feel happier? It's a bit like developing a questionnaire to measure your diet and asking "did you eat healthily this month"? Pretty useless

Towards a measure of happy behaviours

In our LifeAge test we take a different approach. One we've developed with Professor Rob Nolan, a psychologist at Toronto General Hospital. We've identified a number of behaviours that tap into different types of happiness. Research shows the more of these behaviours that we adopt the more we seem to get happier and healthier. In fact even in a group of people who had heart failure the more of these behaviours that they followed the less likely they were to end up in hospital.

It is in measuring how often we perform these behaviours that we get a true sense of our overall happiness. It allows us to recall and reflect on what we've actually been doing ourselves to try to stay happy and what more we can do to get 'happier'.

How much do you do to stay happy?

So what do you personally do to make yourself happier in different ways? If you go to our Life Age test you can find out if your current lifestyle is helping. In the assessment there are a number of questions that ask you about how frequently you perform behaviours that are associated with higher levels of happiness and wellbeing. The more you do the better your score will be. If your score isn't a bright green then don't worry! You can always find small ways to get happier just by doing more of those things every day.

That's something to feel good about!