From that, they built a sample of more than three million data points, orders of magnitude more than previous studies of happiness. So what does three million happiness data points tell us?
Activities that make people the happiest include sex, exercise, and gardening. People get a big boost of happiness from being with a romantic partner or friends, but not with other people such as colleagues, children, or acquaintances. The weather only plays a small role in happiness, except that people get a strong mood boost on extraordinary days, like those above 75 degrees and sunny. People are consistently happier when they are out in nature, particularly near a body of water, particularly when the landscape is beautiful.
The findings on happiness data are, to be honest, obvious. When I told my friends about these studies, the most common response was, “Did we need scientists to tell us that?”
But I would argue that there is depth to the obviousness of the happiness data.
Sometimes big data reveals a shocking secret. Other times, big data tells us that there is no secret. And this is the case of happiness.
This is crucial for many of us who aren’t doing the obvious things that make people happy. We are falling into traps that, according to the data, are unlikely to make us happy.
Many of us work very hard at jobs with people we don’t like – it’s not a likely path to happiness. The Doctor. MacKerron and economist Alex Bryson found work to be the second most miserable activity; out of 40 activities, just being sick in bed makes people less happy than working. Economist Steven Levitt found that when people aren’t sure whether to leave a job, they can be encouraged to leave. And when they stop, they report an increase in happiness months later.
Many of us move to big cities and spend little time in nature – it’s not a path to happiness either. A study by economists Ed Glaeser and Josh Gottlieb ranked happiness across all American metropolitan areas. They found that New York City was the least happy. Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco also scored low. The happiest places include Flagstaff, Arizona; Naples, Florida, and pretty much all of Hawaii. And when people move from unhappy cities to happy places, they report greater happiness.