Researchers ‘surprised’ by UK ‘happiness’ figures

Portrait of a happy woman
Portrait of a happy woman

UK adults are experiencing a slowdown in their levels of personal wellbeing, according to new figures.

Against the backdrop of an improving economy and high employment rates, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said there is a “surprising” situation where people are not feeling better about certain aspects of their lives for the first time in five years.

There was no improvement in ratings of happiness, anxiety and the feeling that things in life are worthwhile in the financial year to March, according to the ONS data. Personal wellbeing had improved across each of the issues over the five years to 2016.

Researchers found that adults gave a 7.7 out of 10 rating for life satisfaction, 7.8 out of 10 for the feeling that what they did in life was worthwhile, 7.5 out of 10 for feelings of happiness, and gave anxiety a score of 2.9 out of 10.

The figures were created from responses from over 16-year-olds to questions on various aspects of life such as feelings of satisfaction, happiness, anxiety and whether what they were doing was worthwhile. People were asked to respond on a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is “not at all” and 10 is “completely”.

Abbie Self, of the ONS, said: “Overall, life satisfaction has increased over the past year, which is what one might expect given the improvements seen in the economy and record high employment during that period.

“However, what is more surprising, is that there is no change over the same time in people’s happiness, anxiety and feeling that what they do in life is worthwhile. This is the first time we haven’t seen year-on-year improvements in these particular measures since we began collecting the data in 2011.”

People in London had the lowest average feelings that things they do in life are worthwhile when compared with the UK overall. Those living in Northern Ireland continued to have a stronger outlook on their personal wellbeing for all measures except anxiety.

Residents in Northern Ireland, the East Midlands, the East of England and the South West had the greatest sense that what they were doing was worthwhile.

Northern Ireland residents gave themselves an average rating of 8 on this issue, while those in the East Midlands scored 7.9 and residents in both the East of England and the South West gave an average rating of 7.8. Londoners gave themselves a mean average score of 7.7.

Women expressed higher levels of anxiety than men, with researchers suggesting that this could be due to several factors, women “being more socially connected and involved than men”.