How the appliance of (statistical) science helped reveal the difference between what women think makes them happy and what actually creates happiness.
What makes women happy? If there was ever a million-dollar question, this would be it. A way to understand, if not guarantee, the happiness of half of the world’s population.
It’s a question that Discovery Networks asked themselves as they looked to launch their flagship women’s channel TLC across more European markets. They wanted a thought-piece that would impress on advertisers how much they understood women at the very deepest levels.
There are a lot of opinions about women’s requirements for a happy life, especially in print. The media buzzes with stories and commentary from self-appointed experts, whether authors of self-help books or academics in the realm of positive psychology, as the study of happiness is known. Discovery had added to the pile of knowledge with a comprehensive survey of over 5,500 women in Europe, Russia and South Africa, as well as numerous face-to-face interviews.
Move to Denmark, and have two children?
The survey found that the happiest women were in Denmark, in a relationship, had at least two children, and had something meaningful to do with their time (employment, or full-time motherhood). At face value, the findings seemed obvious, even a bit depressing, although good news for Danish people, and Danish men particularly, who ought to be in high demand wherever they live, as a relationship with a Dane might be the next best thing for women’s happiness to living in Denmark.
Women themselves, when asked directly to name the criteria for a happy life, had named health as the number one pre-requisite, followed by relationships. Anyone who has suffered personal ill-health, or supported the illness of a loved one, will know the importance of this factor. But once again, it didn’t seem to go deep enough – plenty of healthy people aren’t happy.
The hidden drivers of happiness
We took another look at the data for Discovery, to see if there might be a more interesting and insightful story. To do this, we ignored the correlation between the highest happiness scores and demographic data. This is fairly simplistic analysis, as correlation does not imply causation. (So if you were thinking of moving to Denmark to improve your happiness, maybe just hold off until you’ve finished reading this article.)
Instead, we looked for the causes of difference between women who claimed to be happiest with their lives and those who were least happy. We studied everything including income, relationships and employment status, as well as attitudes and beliefs more generally. We looked to identify patterns of response typical of happier and unhappier women, using the statistical techniques of factor analysis and regression analysis. What we found was that attitudes clustered into common factors, and one factor in particular accounted for the majority of difference between happy and unhappy women: attitudes relating to control and confidence. This factor outweighed relationships, children, work and money in its influence, and was universal – it applied to women across every country and age group in the survey. We had identified a fundamental truth.
Happiness is an attitude, it’s not dictated by demographics
There is a common thread among happier women: they feel more confident and in control of their lives, whatever their circumstances. Happier women tend to agree more strongly with statements such as “I feel confident in dealing with financial matters’. They disagree with statements such as ‘I haven’t achieved as much as I wanted to by my age’, or ‘There are too many expectations of me to be perfect’ or ‘I worry about my own personal future’.
We identified four other factors that also contribute to women’s happiness: a partner in life, contentment with personal appearance, strength of other relationships (including friends, family and children), and feelings of social status and worth. But these really were secondary to the all-important attitude to life in general.
Applying the learning
We took great comfort from our own findings, as they empowered us as women to look for ways to boost our confidence and sense of control over our personal and working lives. (Raj, our Creative Director, and the only male team member, felt he had gained the knowledge to support his wife’s happiness, not to mention his female colleagues, though we say he’s doing a great job at helping us feel confident and in control already.)
For Discovery, the analysis formed the foundation of a truly thought-leading brochure, which we wrote and designed for them and which you can download at the bottom of the page. And so far as TLC is concerned, the delightful implication is that if you are feeling less than happy with your life – maybe it appears less in control than you’d like it to be – then there is plenty of great viewing to make you feel a whole lot better. Our advice – just turn on to “Jo Frost’s Family S.O.S”, “Last Chance Salon” or “Hoarding, Buried Alive”.