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Reviews |  The rich are not who we think they are


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

The activities that make people the happiest are sex, exercise, and gardening. People are very happy to be with a romantic partner or friends, but not with other people, such as colleagues, children or acquaintances. Weather plays only a small role in happiness, except that people are in good spirits on extraordinary days, like those above 75 degrees and sunny. People are always happiest when they are out in nature, especially near a body of water, especially when the scenery is beautiful.

The conclusions about the happiness data are, to be honest, obvious. When I told my friends about these studies, the most common response was, “Do we need scientists to tell us that?”

But I would say there is a depth to the evidence of the happiness data.

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

It’s crucial to keep this in mind for those of us who don’t do the obvious things that make people happy. We fall into traps that data shows are unlikely to make us happy.

Many of us work way too hard at jobs with people we don’t like – that’s not a likely path to happiness. Dr. MacKerron and 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. Economist Steven Levitt found that when people don’t know if they should quit a job, they can be pressured into doing so. And when they quit, they report increased happiness months later.

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

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