Happiness and the arts

Yes, you read that right.

We all know how important creativity is in the world — it is what keeps us moving forward. But did you know just how important it is to your own personal happiness?

According to an ongoing UK based study at the London School of Economics, the top 6 times people are happiest are when: 1) having sex 2) exercising 3) attending a theatre, dance, or concert performance 4) singing or performing 5) at an art exhibit, museum or library, and 6) tending to hobbies, arts and crafts.

The study is called the Mappiness Project, and if you have an iPhone you can participate in it yourself. The graduate work of researcher George MacKerron, it works by randomly dinging your iPhone twice a day and asking you a few questions on your happiness and alertness in that moment.

Thus far he has collected three million data points from 45,000 users in the UK over the past 18 months.

Intimacy and sex ranking number one is no surprise at all — it should be making you quite happy — and exercise has similar endorphin releasing powers, so that shouldn’t come as a shock either. The interesting thing is how all four of the following highest ranking activities are arts related.

Attending the theater, a concert or dance performance isn’t something most people participate in regularly, and MacKerron notes that of the three million responses, only 3,500 were in the theatre/concert/dance catagory — but those who responded during or right after attending a performance were demonstrably happier than others. “Someone at the theatre will average about 6 points happier than someone who isn’t,” he told Arts Journal.

He theorizes that because we have to purchase a ticket in advance to attend a performance, that may have something to do with our happiness level while attending. The advanced action also helps to ensure that the happiness is coming from the activity itself and not just because the person happens to be feeling good in general at that time — which is harder to quantify for someone responding positively while somewhere like a park.

Survey responses that come in an hour after the ding are automatically discounted, to ensure people are accurately reporting their happiness level at that moment.

When is the happiest day? According to the study, people are happiest around midday on December 25th, which could account for that time after opening presents and before dealing with the craziness of relatives and holiday gatherings.

The unhappiest day? January 31st around 8pm — which likely accounts for that moment when everyone is ready for grey skies and winter weather to be over.

It also found people are significantly happier on weekends than weekdays, and even happier on bank holidays — which all seems fairly straightforward.

Working, commuting to work, and standing in line were found to be the least happiest activities.

What does this all mean? Invest in a performance, a crafty project, or your own artistic talents if you want to bring more joy into your life. If you want to be really happy, consider a career that involves the arts.

Watch MacKerron talk about the Mappiness Project at a TEDx Talk:

Sources: Arts Journal, Chatelaine

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/Kip Holcomb

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