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When was the happiest year to be alive?

When was the happiest time to be alive?

Any response to this question is likely to be flawed. How do you manage happiness, where in the world are you making the measurement and what are you comparing the level of happiness to?

But, according to a team of researchers at Warwick University, they have an answer and it’s 1957. 

Here’s where the research might be flawed. The researchers used a programme to scan over 8 million books published between 1776 and 2009. 

They then counted the use of ‘positive words’ such as ‘peaceful’, ‘enjoyment’ and ‘happiness’. However, the research was unable to account for the context and, specifically, the period the text referred to. 

For example, a book written in 1953 may have been discussing life in 1933 but the word count would have been marked against the year 1953. 

Nevertheless, the year they announced as the happiest using those metrics was 1957. 

In 1957, post-war economic growth, increased living standards, and widespread optimism contributed to a sense of well-being. 

It was a time of innovation, relative peace, and prosperity in many parts of the world, leading to a collective sense of happiness. 

Today, challenges such as digital overload, social media comparisons, economic uncertainties, and environmental concerns have contributed to a perceived decline in overall happiness. 

These factors, among others, have shifted the parameters of what contributes to societal happiness, making it a complex and multifaceted issue.

To delve into a more detailed analysis, one would need to consider various socio-economic, technological, and psychological factors that influence the perception of happiness across different eras.

But what I wanted to know next, and this may allow you to make your own decision about which period might have been the happiest is - 

What factors do modern psychologists agree contribute to happiness?

10 themes draw consensus from that community: 

Relationships: Strong, positive relationships with friends, family, and partners are consistently linked to happiness.

Purpose: Having a sense of purpose or meaning in life, whether through work, hobbies, or volunteering, contributes significantly to overall happiness.

Physical Health: Regular exercise and a healthy diet not only improve physical health but also have a positive impact on mental well-being.

Mental Health: Managing stress, practising mindfulness, and seeking help for mental health issues when needed are vital.

Financial Stability: While money doesn't buy happiness, financial security can alleviate stress and provide opportunities for enjoyment.

Community and Belonging: Feeling a sense of belonging and being part of a community can enhance happiness.

Gratitude and Positivity: Cultivating gratitude and focusing on the positive aspects of life can significantly boost happiness levels.

Freedom and Autonomy: Having the freedom to make choices and control over one's life is crucial for happiness.

Achievement and Success: Achieving goals, whether personal or professional, provides a sense of accomplishment and happiness.

Nature and Environment: Spending time in nature and living in a pleasant, supportive environment can improve happiness.

Any research that considers happiness historically will struggle to account for the “rosy retrospection”, a cognitive bias. 

This bias describes the tendency to remember past events more fondly than they occurred, emphasizing positive experiences over negative ones when looking back. 

It can lead to a skewed perception that the past was better than the present.

Is there a more useful way to think about happiness?

Focusing on future happiness, and thinking about how to apply the metrics above to the present, rather than dwelling on the past encourages growth and forward movement. 

It allows for the setting of personal goals and aspirations, fostering a mindset of potential and possibility. 

By contrast, overly romanticizing past happiness can lead to stagnation and prevent one from appreciating current moments or planning for future joy. 

Such as Aston Villa’s 1957 FA Cup win or 1982 European Super Cup triumph. Better yet, I prefer to take an optimistic view that even happier times are ahead. 

Tom.

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