Our view of what makes us happy has changed markedly since 1938. That is the conclusion of the psychologist Sandie McHugh from the Univeristy of Bolton who has recreated a famous study of happiness conducted in Bolton in 1938. She will present her study today, Tuesday 5 May 2015, to the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society in Liverpool.
In 1938 Mass Observation placed an advertisement in the the Bolton Evening News asking readers to answer the question ‘What is happiness?’. A total of 226 people sent letters in reply, and they were asked to help compile a happiness index by rating the importance of ten factors ranging from beauty to more security and religion.
In 2014 Sandie McHugh and Professor Jerome Carson repeated the Mass Observation survey by asking people from the town, via the Bolton News, to complete a questionnaire that repeated the questions from 1938 as closely was possible. She then compared the new findings with those from 1938.
Sandie McHugh found that in 1938 security, knowledge and religion were seen by participants as being the three most important aspects of happiness. In 2014 security was still in the top three, but good humour and leisure were in first and second places.