By Mary Cruse

IT’S that time of year again. A few weeks into 2018 and many of us are grappling with new year’s resolutions.

Whether we’re looking to save money, lose weight or learn something new, our heartfelt commitments generally share one thing in common: we hope that, in the long-term, they might make us happier.

But is this really the case? Could more money, a flat stomach or a nicer house actually improve our overall wellbeing? And if not, then what exactly does make us happy?

In an attempt to identify some of the factors behind living well, Oxford Economics and the National Centre for Social Research have produced a new ‘happiness index’.

Using data gathered from 8,250 British respondents, researchers have identified and quantified several behaviours that are linked to a sense of wellbeing.

The groundbreaking research, commissioned by Sainsbury’s, used a 60-question survey to assess the relationship between lifestyle and happiness in people of all ages and backgrounds.

The research found that wellbeing can be affected by who we are – factors such as age, ethnicity, gender and education levels. Older people were generally found to be happier than younger ones, whilst childless people in their 30s and 40s generally reported the lowest levels of wellbeing.

However, it appears that how we live our lives has a much greater effect on our overall wellbeing. The study demonstrated that, for the average person, everyday lifestyle factors, such as good job security and a healthy sex life, play a major role. The health of our close family members, and the quality of our links with the community also appear to affect our wellbeing.

But by far the most important lifestyle factor – more important than sex, work and community – is sleep. The average Briton was found to have a happiness score of 62.2 out of 100. But good sleepers scored a full 15 points higher than those of us who aren’t well rested.

Compare that with a rise of just two points for an increase in household income from £12,500 to £50,000 per annum. What this means is that a good night’s sleep is the single best thing that we can do for our sense of wellbeing – better than a massive pay rise or a lotto win.

Indeed, factors such as good sleep habits, a happy sex life, a stable job, a healthy family, and strong community links were all found to be much more significant to our wellbeing than the amount of money we earn, whether we rent or own property, or how many social media followers we have.

But that’s not to say that the formula for happiness is totally clear cut. Some of the most significant risk factors for poor levels of wellbeing included unemployment, physical and mental health problems, and limited support networks. There are clearly many things that a good night’s sleep cannot fix.

Nonetheless, for the average person, there may be lifestyle changes that we can make to enhance our wellbeing. The ‘Living Well’ report, which pulls together the research findings, suggests that chatting to neighbours, spending more time outdoors, and eating meals with family and friends (sans television) may all up our score on the happiness index.

Happiness is not easily quantified.

Our sense of wellbeing is impacted by a number of complex factors, some of which are easily altered, some of which are not. Nonetheless, there may be small steps we can take to cultivating a happier life – it might be the occasional walk in the park, an evening meal with those we love; or it could even be as simple as 40 winks.

You can get your own Living Well score and suggestions on how to improve it at: