The Rich Are Not Who We Think They Are

From this, they built a sample of more than three million data points, orders of magnitude more than previous studies on happiness. So what do three million happiness data points tell us?

The activities that make people happiest include sex, exercise and gardening. People get a big happiness boost from being with a romantic partner or friends but not from other people, like colleagues, children or acquaintances. Weather plays only a small role in happiness, except that people get a hearty mood boost on extraordinary days, such as those above 75 degrees and sunny. People are consistently happier when they are out in nature, particularly near a body of water, particularly when the scenery is beautiful.

The findings on the data of happiness are, to be honest, obvious. When I told my friends about these studies, the most common response was, “Did we need scientists to tell us this?”

But I would argue that there is profundity in the obviousness of the data on happiness.

Sometimes, big data reveals a shocking secret. At other times, big data tells us that there is no secret. And that’s the case with happiness.

This is crucial to keep in mind for the many of us who are not doing the obvious things that make people happy. We are falling for traps that the data says are unlikely to make us happy.

Many of us work far too hard at jobs with people we don’t like — not a likely path to happiness. Dr. MacKerron and the economist Alex Bryson found that work is the second-most-miserable activity; of 40 activities, only being sick in bed makes people less happy than working. The economist Steven Levitt found that when people are uncertain whether to quit a job, they can be nudged to quit. And when they quit, they report increased happiness months later.

Many of us move to big cities and spend little time in nature — also not a path to happiness. A study by the economists Ed Glaeser and Josh Gottlieb ranked the happiness of every American metropolitan area. They found that New York City was just about the least happy. Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco also scored low. The happiest places include Flagstaff, Ariz.; Naples, Fla., and pretty much all of Hawaii. And when people move out of unhappy cities to happy places, they report increased happiness.

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