Public expenditure, leisure time, crime, gender inequality, income inequality, depression — none of these is correlated with measures of happiness over time. If we believe that the data over time on recorded happiness have any real meaning, they suggest one thing very strongly: attempts to improve the human lot by social and economic policy are a monumental exercise in futility.
But that's not all. It goes on to identify two factors that positively affect people's overall happiness. What are they? The first is marriage. Married people are on the whole happier than those alone or in 'relationships'. The second is religion. People who have faith are happier than those who are not:
Marriage makes people far less likely to suffer psychological illness, and more likely to live much longer and be both healthier and happier.
The benefits are confined to those who are married rather than cohabiting. And these benefits are large. In terms of health, for example, the longevity effect of marriage may even offset the consequences of smoking. Religious faith also has a distinct positive effect on happiness.
The author of the article draws some pretty obvious conclusions but ones we rarely hear these days:
In so far as policy conclusions can be drawn at this stage of happiness research, they seem to imply increased support for marriage, reductions in incentives to single parents and the promotion of faith schools. It’s hardly the mix that is usually heard from the liberal advocates of wellbeing policies.