Yes, but are we happy?

Brad Harrington is the Executive Director of the Boston College Center for Work & Family.  This blog was originally posted in our member newsletter.

In recent years, a lot of smart people have begun to pay attention to what would seem a pretty obvious question, “Are we happy?” Suddenly (actually not so suddenly but it is gaining much greater visibility of late) scholars from a whole range of disciplines -economics, psychology, sociology, management, etc. – are paying attention to whether we are getting any happier as time marches on. Economists, for example, look at whether economic prosperity brings greater happiness to a country and even begin to think we should use measures beyond GDP to evaluate the quality of life in a given country, a sort of Gross Happiness Index (GHI).

This month in search of greater knowledge on the subject and no doubt, an increased level of self-awareness on the topic, I read some research on the subject. One particularly good piece was called International Happiness: A New View on the Measure of Performance by David Blanchflower (an economist from Dartmouth College in the US) and Andrew Oswald (Dean of Research for Warwick University Business School in England). The authors did a good job of synthesizing a lot of research on the topic, and I thought I’d pass along my version of their findings, albeit in a less sophisticated form. Any mistakes made in an attempt to convey their work simply are my own and I offer apologies in advance to the authors. But since we are all in the business of trying to help people be happier and more fulfilled in their work and lives, I thought this simple checklist might be useful.

According to my reading of the authors, and their review of years of happiness studies, you are more likely to be happy if:

1.     You are young or old. If you are middle age, not so much.

2.     You are working. If you’re reading this newsletter, you probably get a point for this one.

3.     You are rich. You know that old cliché that money doesn’t buy happiness? It’s not true, it does! I always had my doubts about that one.

4.     You are well educated. It seems the more educated you are, the happier you are. Although for some people, the authors suspect this is because well educated people make more money. In which case, refer to point 3.

5.     If you are from Denmark, the Netherlands, or Ireland (being of Irish descent, I never thought we were a particularly happy lot, but I need the point so I won’t debate it.)

6.     If you are married or in a committed relationship. I didn’t run this one by Annie but I’m sure she would agree.

7.     You are in good health. This is kind of obvious but reflects an old saying my dad shared with me a hundred times. “If you have your health, you have everything.”

8.     Now the tough ones begin. If you exercise regularly. I wonder if monthly is considered regularly. I do it every single month.

9.     If you eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables.

10.  If you are slim.

I really enjoyed reading this well written and informative article. But I must admit I had no idea how unhappy I was until I did. The good news is, I’ll be improving my score on Point 1 in the very near future!



The Boston College Center for Work & Family is a global leader in helping organizations create effective workplaces that support and develop healthy and productive employees. Please visit us at
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One Response to Yes, but are we happy?

  1. Pingback: Yes, but are we happy? | Sloan Work and Family Research Network

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