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, such as colleagues, children or acquaintances. The weather plays only a small role in happiness, except that people get a solid mood boost on extraordinary days, such as those over 75 degrees and sunshine. People are consistently happier when they are out in nature, especially near a body of water, especially when the landscape is beautiful.
The results of data on happiness 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 this?”
But I would argue that there is depth in the obviousness of data on happiness.
Sometimes big data reveals a shocking secret. At other times, big data tells us that there is no secret. And so it is with happiness.
This is crucial to keep in mind for the many of us who do not do the obvious things that make people happy. We fall for traps that the data says are unlikely to make us happy.
Many of us work way too hard on jobs with people we dislike – 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 are unsure whether to quit a job, they may be pressured to quit. And when they quit, they report increased happiness months later.
Many of us move to big cities and spend some time in nature – not even a path to happiness. A survey conducted by economists Ed Glaeser and Josh Gottlieb ranked happiness in any U.S. metropolitan area. They found that New York City was almost 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 from unhappy cities to happy places, they report increased happiness.