The History of Happiness


Rush. Rush. Rush. Life so easily becomes a series of punctuated moments, blending together in a blur. And what do we all search for? The ultimate goal for most of us is happiness. But happiness is elusive and it is tricky to achieve. I am a firm believer of learn what you can from your past and that is exactly what one group of happiness chasers just did.

Researchers from the British Psychological Society recently conducted a study using data (hand written letters) from the 1930’s. Seem archaic? Well, it turns out that happiness has not changes much. In 1938, the Bolton Evening News ran a competition. The prize? Two guineas (not the rodent pigs… a shilling gold coin that was then minted by the British). All you had to do to win was send a letter responding to the question: “What does happiness mean to you and yours?” Over 220 letters were sent in response and this data became priceless to modern day psychologists.

Where did happiness stem from back then?

Three major themes emerged from this research:

  1. Contentment/peace of mind
  2. Family and home
  3. Other people

What this teaches people of today that despites leap and bounds in technology, incredible inflation and staggering population growth, happiness is pretty much the same. Happiness stems from loving what you have. It stems from appreciation and gratitude and finding your sources of success in other places than money. Happiness comes from those you love. It comes from the warmth of a home filled with loved ones. And happiness still comes from philanthropy. Humans are social creatures and when we give, we get. Happiness is that simple and how beautiful that that simplicity has not changed in almost a century.

The researchers also discovered that a prevalent theme that contributed to all three forms of happiness was something the participants commonly called “pleasure time.” This referred to all time that they spent interacting in the community or with their loved ones, in leisure. Back then a large portion of this “pleasure time” was in their workplace, the local pub, the commonplaces of the town and in the Lancashire seaside resorts, especially Blackpool. That has changed and is a stark juxtaposition to the time we spend in our leisure: Netflix, Facebook, Instagram. These are not places but virtual escapes which may even take us away from some of these original sources of happiness (less time with our loved ones, less time being content with our lives, less time to give to others). Social media and our global community also have the ability to contribute greatly to our sources of happiness, if we choose to let that happen. We can give to others around the world with a click of a button. We can connect with loved ones in different continents as easily as we turn on our TiVo. And we can encourage others to lift spirits and spread joy (much like is the mission of DeW).

I hope that this research left you asking the same questions that I had echoing in my mind: What will I choose to do with my time? Find happiness or evade it?

British Psychological Society (BPS). “Lessons from the past on how to be happy.” Science Daily. Science Daily, 2 May 2017. <>.



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