The 5 Biggest Factors Affecting Happiness and Wellbeing

As someone who’s borderline obsessed with happiness and wellbeing, I was intrigued to read about a nationwide survey that measures people’s happiness and how well they live. I’ll link to the actual study at the end, but here are some of the highlights, along with my own observations.

1. Sweet Dreams

Better sleep is the biggest single contributor to living better. Over 60 percent of the group who came out as living very well felt rested most or all of the time after sleep – but less than five percent of the group who were struggling with life felt this way.

I wasn’t surprised to learn that sleep has the strongest association with how well we feel we are living. My happiness levels absolutely increase or decrease in proportion to my quality of sleep. This study revealed that getting a good night’s sleep would be the equivalent to having four times as much disposable income! 

If you’re a sleep deprived mama reading this in despair, hang on – here’s some good news: Perhaps surprisingly, the study found that families with young children are living best. They found a positive impact on wellbeing for parents of children under five years old, when parenting can be at its most intense. The value of parenthood and the stronger social bonds that tend to feature at this life stage outweighed the lack of sleep and financial pressures also associated with having young children, resulting in higher-than-average Living Well scores. There you go! 

2. Strong support network and feeling a part of a community

Real and regular interactions with neighbours, friends and family make a difference to quality of life. Some 73 percent of those living very well report having strong support networks, and this group frequently meets socially with friends, families or colleagues. In comparison, just 12 percent of those struggling say they have strong support networks – and the majority of people in this group meet socially with friends, family or colleagues only once a month or less.

I’m a huge advocate of support networks. I meet up with my Power Posse once a month to work on our Project Me together. I’m also a member of the Driven Woman Network, and I run Project Me workshops and retreats to bring like-minded mamas together. My private Facebook group, ‘Project Me Goal Diggers’, is for everyone who’s ever joined on one of my online programmes and we’re there for each other in the ups and downs.  I’ve written a whole chapter in my new book about how to make new friends, deal with friendship issues and get more involved in your community. 

3. Sex Life Satisfaction

Almost two thirds of those who scored highly in the study said that they were satisfied with their sex life. I’ve scoured the full report and nothing is revealed about why that is. I’d guess that those who rated their sex lives higher are in a happier relationship?

As someone whose libido completely dried up after the birth of my children – but who later got it back, I was relieved to re-new this important connection with my husband. I’ve never really appreciated the significance it plays in my overall happiness, but it does have me thinking…   You can read my personal story and How to Get Your Sex Drive Back here. 

4. Money REALLY Doesn’t Buy Happiness

Of course we’ve all heard it a million times before, but surely having more money equals some degree of increase in wellbeing, right? Well, according to this study, a 50 per cent rise in disposable income contributes to just a 0.5 point increase in their ‘Living Well’ score. 

Although money itself doesn’t make a significant difference in happiness, a perceived level of job security does. Job security brings peace of mind. Peace of mind brings happiness. It makes sense. 

5. Health worries

Not necessarily your own health, but worries about the health of close relations emerges as a significant barrier to happiness. I’ve worked with a few mamas lately who have a sick parent and I can understand the emotional toll that brings. Self-care is vital when you’re giving so much attention to the health of someone else. You’ll be no use to anyone if you don’t take care of yourself properly, so get to bed early, eat nutritiously, breathe fully, get fresh air and exercise.

Meditation is a wonderful self-care tool and this meditation app makes it easier for you to remember that worrying (about health, money, job security, or lack of a good sex life!) doesn’t solve anything. You can also become a Pro Problem Solver and learn how and figure things out on paper so you can take action instead of worrying about it. 

A few more interesting take-aways:

  • Analysis suggests that sitting down to eat socially on most days of the week could boost a typical person’s Living Well score by 0.9 points – which is equal to the improvement associated with doubling someone’s disposable income. Wowsers! For 45 percent of the population, sitting down to eat a meal with friends and family without the television turned on is an infrequent activity. My kids are teenagers now and I can definitely see how our rule of no TV or technology at mealtimes has paid off. You can read my 4 Tips for Building Communication With Your Child here. 
  • The frequency of spending our leisure time outdoors was strongly associated with how we feel. Almost half of the people studied spend their free time outside less than once a week. They can’t be certain, but for those who currently only spend their free time outdoors once a month or less, shifting to doing so once a week could boost their Living Well score by 2.7 points – the same improvement associated with quadrupling their disposable income! Get outside people! (As a housebound hermit in the winter months, this means me too.) 
  • Analysis shows that home ownership is irrelevant from a wellbeing perspective: renters are just as content with their lives as owner occupiers, all else being equal.
  • Despite commonplace fears about the consequences of heavy social media use, analysis shows that people using social media networks heavily had the same levels of overall wellbeing as non-users once other factors were accounted for. (Fellow Facebook junkies, we’re doing okay!)

Of course, what we can control in life will vary from person to person. Some things may be hard or impossible to change. Others may require us to think about changing our environment or habits to make it easier to live well. Project Me is all about getting to know and understand yourself better so you can be in charge of your own happiness.

Read more about the Sainsbury’s Living Well Index study here. It includes a quick online Living Well Quiz to see how you compare with the national average. *note: This is an ongoing study of Britains living in the UK.

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In the comments below, tell us what you think plays a significant role in your own happiness and wellbeing? I’d love to hear any take-aways you got from what you’ve read here.

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  1. Kim on October 16, 2017 at 9:38 AM

    My dad passed away last year after a lengthy illness and as hard as it is to admit it, once he passed I was able to let go of the stress and worry and move forward with plans, all of which increased my happiness. Is it bad to admit this? I am reading point 5 above and see that this is a huge barrier to happiness. In hindsight I should have meditated more, done yoga and more things to nurture myself during that time. It just felt so selfish to focus on me. Things are always obvious in hindsight, right? Maybe someone in this position is reading this right now and can gain from my hindsight. Thanks for another great read Kelly. x

    • Kelly Pietrangeli on October 16, 2017 at 5:51 PM

      I’m sorry about your dad Kim. This is a safe, non judgemental place to say that you’re in a happier place now that your dad’s suffering and your worrying is over. And it’s wonderful that your self-care hindsights can be absorbed by others who may be in this position now. Thanks so much for making someone else happier today. 🙂 x

  2. J on October 16, 2017 at 9:41 AM

    This was really good food for thought. I don’t get enough sleep and it’s nobody’s fault except my own for staying up too late. Bad habit. If getting more sleep really is the equiv to 4 times as much money, that is very motivating!

    • Kelly Pietrangeli on October 16, 2017 at 5:53 PM

      Set yourself a winding down alarm in the evenings to show yourself a commitment to shutting off electronics or whatever else keeps you up past your optimal bedtime. More happiness is on it’s way J! 🙂

  3. Louisa on October 16, 2017 at 12:20 PM

    Ooh, I love this topic and am borderline obsessed with happiness too! I think that’s why I love Project Me so much – it has really helped me take the reins and steer my life into a happier place, on so many levels. The whole family is happier too, if I take the time to plan fun stuff for all of us to do. I’ve recently been making myself get outside more too and I make sure I exercise for 30 mins at least most days. I definitely notice the difference in my happiness levels on the days I get outside and exercise. So, learning from your list, I think I need to work on bringing my bedtime down to 10.30-11pm again. Thanks for the nudge! xxx

    • Kelly Pietrangeli on October 16, 2017 at 5:57 PM

      You’re always so welcome for the nudge Louisa! My happiness levels are very dependent on exercise too and in the winter here in London I have to make a REAL effort to get outside for that essential fresh(‘ish) air. Set yourself an evening winding down alarm in the evenings to be mindful of your intention to get to bed earlier. This really works for me! xx

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