Life satisfaction for both men and women has risen for the 5th year in a row according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), which started the National Wellbeing study in 2011.
Women have been consistently happier the past but the ONS now finds higher anxiety levels among women. More than 1 in 5 said they were so worried about something that it was causing them distress.
Women are known to have larger social or friendship groups then men but rather the alleviating their worries that may actually be contributing to it by giving them more people to worry about (and let’s not mention the pernicious effects of Facebook and other social media).
The experts think that the stress of combining a job with childcare and domestic chores may be taking its toll. Add to that the fact that as the population ages more women end up looking after their elderly parents.
A psychiatrist who has seen women patients struggling to juggle their responsibilities says “Equality in the workplace has undoubtedly been a very good thing but it has left women facing the more negative aspects of corporate life like high levels of alcohol consumption, stress, fewer hours to run a home and raise a family, and potentially an unhealthy diet“.
Recently men have got healthier as women adopted their bad habits at work. So while life satisfaction rose last year – aligned with the economy, earnings, job prospects, and crime levels – there was no increase in happiness or a drop in anxiety levels.
The statisticians think that last year’s general election, the EU referendum and the immigration crisis could have unsettled the public. “It’s possible that the lack of improvement in three of the four personal weep-being measures this year could be associated with the uncertainty surrounding governance, the economy and global security“.
Nevertheless people living in Northern Ireland are the happiest in the UK for the fifth consecutive year and despite years of violence during the troubles there is greater social cohesion there withy people knowing their neighbours and feeling part of the community.
In his new book “Does your family make you smarter” he proposes that intelligence, rather than plateauing at 18 years of age, can increase throughout adulthood, providing you have a stimulating lifestyle.
Households where people talk, challenge, joke and share cultural pastimes can boost the IQ of family members by several points.
And workplaces that impose intellectual challenges on staff can over time raise their individual intelligence.
The opposite is also true. People who share a home or workplace with dullards for any length of time risk seeing their IQ enter a sharp decline because of lack of stimulation.
Flynn says “Intelligence has always been thought to be static … the new evidence shows that this is wrong. The brain seems to be rather like a muscle – the more you use it, the stronger it gets. That means you can upgrade your intelligence during your lifetime“.
He suggests the best way to improve your IQ is to marry someone smarter than you, find an intellectually stimulating job, and hang out with bright friends.
Up to now we’ve believed that intelligence is controlled by genes influenced by our nutrition and environment up to age 18 when it stabilises.
Flynn’s research took 65 years of IQ tests from the US and correlating the results with the age of the people creating IQ age tables. From these he draws two conclusions. The cognitive quality of a family alters the IQ of all members but especially children i.e. it can lift them or hold them back.
For example a bright child of 10 with siblings of average intelligence will suffer on average a 5-10 point IQ disadvantage compared to a similar child with equally bright brothers and sisters. A child with a lower IQ can gain 6-8 points by having brighter siblings and educational support.
The effects are more clear in the early years with arithmetic skills strongly controlled by the home environment up to age 12 and verbal skills affected up to teenage years.
He also believes, based on this research, that although genetics and early life experience determine about 80% of intelligence the rest is strongly linked to our lifestyle as adults.
“As you leave childhood behind the legacy of your family diminishes but the game is not over. A large proportion of your cognitive quality is now in your own hands. You can change it yourself and your IQ can vary through life according to your own efforts” says Flynn
“Going through life feeling your childhood is holding you back is misunderstanding how much power you have to improve yourself”.
I don’t know if his book (out next month) makes any reference to the use of technology and social media and its impact of family interaction because that would have some impact.
This is certainly a game-changing idea and will undoubtedly be challenged although there has been other research which suggests there is something more to IQ than commonly believed.
In 2011 researchers at the University of Pennsylvania said that they found that high IQ scores are a result of high intelligence plus motivation whereas low IQ scores could be because of the lack of either intelligence or motivation (published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).
They also said that students offered incentives improved their IQ scores and suggested that people with high IQs may be not only more intelligent but also more competitive
There is also research that shows you can improve the collective IQ of a group by adding more women.
Research in Scotland found that people with mentally stimulating jobs suffered less cognitive decline as they got older.
And recently researchers at the University of Texas found that busy over-50s had higher cognitive scores than younger people.
Experts in emotional intelligence have long held that EI, unlike IQ, continues to develop into adulthood. Now it seems we have the capacity to develop both our cognitive and socio-emotional skills.
Having portable data can be useful when you are working off-site but these devices also blur the boundaries between home and work.
No wonder companies are happy to give staff the latest smartphone or tablet that they can take home with them. There is an expectation that they will use them “after hours” for work.
Researchers at the University of Surrey examined 65 large studies involving around 50,000 employees.
Few companies actually spell out what is expected of staff, Is there a cut-off time after which it’s not OK to ring someone on a work-related matter? What about during holiday?
“In the absence of a policy written down … employees tend to take guidance from their managers or colleagues. If managers send e-mails late at night, staff feel they are required to answer them” according to one of the researchers at Surrey.
Employees might be happy at first to receive a new piece of technology but they soon realise there is an expectation that they will always be available and it then becomes a burden. They lose a sense of self-control which can lead to being less able to cope with stress.
The researchers believe that having technology such as smartphones has led to white-collar workers working the equivalent of an extra day a week and two day for managers. In other words 24/7.
Family life suffered the most from these distractions as you might expect with not even weekends and holidays protected from digital intrusions.
So technology is contributing to longer working hours, worse work-life balance, and more stress.
We have to look to Germany, the powerhouse of Europe with a strong union involvement in companies, for examples of good practice. Volkswagen, BMW and Puma stop their servers sending out e-mails 30 minutes after the end of the working day and make it clear that employees are not expected to answer e-mails at weekends or when on holiday.
Daimler actually gives its employees the option of automatically deleting any e-mails sent to them when they are on holiday so they don;t come back to a bulging in-box.
And last year France banned interruptions after 1800 and before 0900.
Sadly in the UK we don’t seem so concerned about employees’ well-being,
It seems that the idea of “work-life balance” (threatened recently by female American CEOs espousing “work-life merge“) is now so dated.
New research indicates that for many people the workplace is where they are happiest. Of course it’s always been known that some people go to work to get away from an unhappy home life and that people who hate their jobs stay away as often as they can get away with.
But it seems more people are seeing the work-place as a refuge, somewhere where they feel valued; putting off going home to children and partners demanding their time and expecting them to share the domestic duties when they’d rather be at the bar with their colleagues after work.
Or if they are single avoiding going home to an empty space with nothing very satisfying to do. This all sounds rather bleak but Arlie Hochschild, a sociologist at the University of Berkeley, California looked at Fortune 500 companies and discovered that many people didn’t want to take advantage of part-time working, paternity or maternity benefits, and other family-friendly options.
Whilst acknowledging that their families came first (?) they saw the workplace as an escape from the demands of home life. The same applied for single and child-free employees. Many people actively choose to be at work.
It was Hochschild who coined the term “second shift” for the work that women in two-career families have to do when they go home at night. For these women work was a less stressful environment than being at home.
Furthermore about 20% of people she interviewed in her book “Time Bind” said they felt more supported and appreciated and work was the place where they could be “themselves“. One male executive is quoted as saying he found it easier to deal with his “office children” than his actual children.
Researchers at Penn State University have backed up this qualitative research with some hard science. They recruited 122 men and women (average age = 41) who were employed on a 5-day week with weekends off. About 50% of them were slightly better off than most middle-income earners ($30k -$75k a year). Roughly half of them were married and half of those had children living at home.
Over a 3-day period each participant gave a saliva sample which was tested for the level of cortisol, a stress hormone. Each participant was also asked 6 times a day how happy they felt and how much stress they were under.
The researchers found that cortisol levels, a biological marker of stress, were significantly lower at work than at home, indicating lower levels of stress at work.
Although this goes against the idea that work is stressful it supports the fact that people who work have better levels of mental and physical health than people who don’t work.
Sarah Damaske, a co-author of the report, said that previous research showed that mothers who worked steadily through their 20s and 30s report better physical and mental health than part-time or non-working mothers.
Other interesting discoveries were:
- The fact that women as well as men had lower stress levels at work suggest that they might get more out of being at work; women report themselves happier there than men who report the opposite.
- Parents had lower levels of stress at home but there was less difference for non-parents.
- Lower income people reported less stress at work but there was no difference in higher-earning people.
Lower income people might enjoy the distractions of being at work and socialising then face up to the reality of domestic duties and unpaid bills when they get home.
In some workplaces being in a team can be very supportive, being made a fuss of on your birthday and having social events can be fun. People even get the chance to flirt, have affairs and meet their future partners!
Damaske says that the type of stress people suffer at work is different from that which they suffer at home. Families can be a source of pleasure as well as worry. At work we have some control over things as we can go home every night and if things get really bad change jobs. Not so easy with family commitments!
Especially for women pulling that “second shift“. Modern partners might do more than their parents did but men still don’t do the same share as women. The fact that stress levels drop at the weekend suggests it’s the balancing of competing work and home demands that is challenging.
Brigid Schulte, author of “Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play when no-one has the time” expresses no surprise at the results. “The lives of women have changed almost completely in the past 40 years and the world around them has hardly changed at all. Women are still expected to do as much if not more at home as they always have, So many are trying to compete with men who don’t have the same responsibilities at home“.
Schulte thinks technology might help in future by allowing people to work in more flexible ways and give managers the ability to assess performances accurately without worrying about how many hours people have worked.
I think that’s unlikely. There is already evidence that Gen Y employees resent people who use flexible working arrangements and many managers don’t trust employees to work from home. As for performance assessment, it might work at the level of simple repetitive jobs but all the evidence is that for jobs requiring problem-solving, creativity or other high functioning processes it doesn’t work.
Main Source: The Times ‘Body & Soul‘ 6 September 2014
Despite what England fans might feel right now football competitions can make you happy. But only in the short-term – and only if you are the host country. And even that doesn’t make you as happy as a good marriage.
Married people are happier than single people (of course it could be that happy people get married more easily).
And the 30% improvement in happiness due to being married even counteracts all the negative affects of unemployment but don’t get divorced (the two worst life events are losing a spouse and unemployment).
There are some differences between the sexes and between age groups. For example women look less happy but angrier than they are, whereas men look less angry and happier than they are. Probably because we have cultural expectations that women should be happier than men and men angrier than women and we notice when people display behaviour counter to that norm.
Older people focus more on positive aspects of goods and services because they focus more on emotional goals than young adults.(See “What makes you Happy”). Optimism is associated with happiness, good physical and mental health and longevity. Conversely when we are stressed it lowers our immune system so we are more likely to become ill. Middle aged people who are happy have fewer physical symptoms of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
Extraverts are happier than Introverts because they spend more time doing enjoyable things. But introverts who are asked to behave as extroverts can be even happier than real extroverts. And we are attracted to happy people because we think we will give good genes to our children.
Happiness IS NOT associated with: wealth (once basic needs are met), education, high IQ, youth (20-24 year olds are more depressed than 65-74 year olds) and watching TV more than 3 hours a day – especially watching soaps.
But it IS associated with: religion (although it may be the community rather than the belief), having lots of friends, and drinking in moderation (compared to teetotallers).
We are not evolved to be happy all the time otherwise we would have nothing to strive for. However 50% of happiness may be due to our genes compared to les than 10% due to our circumstances. We may have a set point or range of happiness to which we return after experiencing ups and downs. So like the football example, winning the lottery may not make us happy forever.
According to Martin Seligman – the inspiration for positive psychology – we can raise our happiness levels by enjoying life’s experiences more eg by savouring sensual experiences, by becoming more engaged with life and by finding ways of making our lives more meaningful.
Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of “The How of Happiness: a practical guide to getting the life you want“, suggests the following programme to raise your levels of happiness:
- Count your blessings – keep a gratitude journal each week of 3-5 things
- Practise being kind – both randomly and systematically
- Savour life’s joys
- Thank a mentor
- Learn to forgive
- Invest time and energy in friends and family – these are more important than work to your happiness.
- Take care of your body and health
- Develop strategies for coping with stress and hardship – having a strong belief system helps.
Updated 2 July 2010: Catherine Bennett in the weekend’s Observer (27 June 2010) took a rather cynical view in her piece; “Phew. At last we can ignore the gurus peddling happiness“. Clearly not impressed by the wave of optimism being generated at a time of world-wide problems and austerity at home. She refers to the Movement for Happiness and its founder Lord Layard who said; “… as our society has become richer, our happiness has not risen in step. Despite ever greater affluence, our lives are increasingly stressful. This paradox requires a radical rethink of our lifestyles and our goals”.
Conceding that the strategies proposed by happiness enthusiasts are neither complicated or expensive she also quotes the GREAT approach (advocated by the New Economics Foundation). GREAT stands for: Giving, Relating to others, Exercising the body, Attending to the world around, and Teaching yourself something fresh – but she wonders what good they are to people who have just lost their jobs or never had one.
Well I know that exercise is the best form of anti-depressant, relating to others might help develop networks and reduce self-obsessing, and keeping up-to-date and learning a new skill is a good way to get a new job. Maybe we should just ignore the journalists peddling negativity?