The Happiness Formula

I’ve just watched introductory episode of “The Happiness Formula” on BBC2, a series investigating what makes us happy and how happiness is being investigated by science.

The program starts and ends with Aristotle suggesting that ‘happiness is the ultimate goal of humanity’. On the way it goes through: brain scans, Midge Ure’s conversion from pleasure to happiness via Live Aid, the study of subjective wellbeing, the lifespans of happy and grumpy nuns in Milwaukee, happiness vs money, Bhutan’s adoption of GNH (Gross National Happiness) as a measure of success rather than GDP and political action here in the UK to measure and boost happiness. All this in half an hour.

Some of the interesting observations for me were:

  • The useful distinction between pleasure and happiness. Pleasure is a fleeting sensation sandwiched between bouts of wanting and happiness is a more stable state that persists over time.
  • A study featuring the nuns of Milwaukee, the happiest nuns outlived the grumpy ones by 9 years. If smoking 20 day takes three years off your life, being unhappy or grumpy is much worse for your health than smoking.
  • The level of happiness is predictive of suicide rates, health and workplace performance among others
  • One of the best ways to improve your happiness is to do voluntary work

I enjoyed the program, although the science was a bit light it was very engaging. It makes a welcome change from Eastenders which is probably equivalent to smoking 60 a day.

There are six programs in the series, more information and articles can be found at

The Happiness Formula is on BBC2 on Wednesday evenings at 7pm.

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