Study Explores How 80 Years Have Changed Views on Happiness

woman with cap pulled over her eyesWhat is happiness? The answer isn’t as straightforward as you might think, and is heavily influenced by cultural norms. How you answer questions about happiness today may be very different from how someone like you would have answered the same questions 80 years ago, according to a new study. The researchers, psychology professors Sandi McHugh and Jerome Carson, will present their results at the British Psychological Society’s annual conference.

How Happiness Has Evolved

In 1938, a Mass Observation ad in the Bolton Evening News asked readers how they defined happiness. Researchers asked the 226 people who replied to rate the relative importance of 10 measures of happiness, such as security and religion. In 2014, McHugh and Carson placed another ad in the Bolton Daily News, this time asking readers to complete a questionnaire similar to the one respondents answered in 1938.

In 1938, knowledge, security, and religion ranked as the most important happiness factors. Security still ranked highly in 2014, but religion and knowledge were replaced by good humor and leisure. Modern-day respondents ranked religion’s role in happiness dead last. Though in 1938 most respondents said they were happiest when at home in Bolton, 63% of 2014 respondents said they were happier when they were away.

In both 1938 and 2014, respondents did not think wealth played an important role in happiness. When asked about the role of luck, 40% of both 2014 and 1938 respondents felt that it played a role. McHugh and Carson provided a number of quotes from respondents about happiness as well. “I would like a little home, not many possessions,” read one typical 1938 response. “Engaging in my hobbies, spending time that is free of worry,” a 2014 response read.


How our view of what makes us happy has changed in 80 years. (2015, May 4). Retrieved from

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  • Trinity


    May 6th, 2015 at 3:42 AM

    I am sure that in 1938 people were not making as much money and there was lot of insecurity in their lives that many of us are fortunate to not have to feel today.

  • John


    May 6th, 2015 at 1:38 PM

    Part of this is that we have become so spoiled with having virtually everything that we could ever want or need right at our fingertips, it makes sense that the things that people in the early 20th century wanted are going to be vastly different than the things that we would say today. For many back then it was about survival and putting food ion the table. We can afford to be a little more fanciful than that.

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