Mental Health and Relationships Are The Key To Happiness.
When we think about what causes humans to be miserable, the finger is often pointed at money problems and poverty as key catalysts.
A study published this month by the London School of Economics (LSE), however, has found that these are not the two drivers of overall human misery: Mental and physical illnesses and failed relationships are.
Researchers believe that to reduce overall human misery, policymakers should turn their efforts towards eliminating depression and anxiety. Doing so would reduce misery by 20 per cent, whereas the current drive to eliminate poverty in Western societies will only reduce overall misery by five per cent.
That is, the money going into increase mental health care gets recovered by the Government through a higher employment rate (which means more tax is paid).
But the responsibility doesn't solely rest on policymakers. As a society made up of individuals and families, we need to take more ownership of our physical and mental health and our relationships.
The LSE researchers say this means we should change our focus from "wealth creation" to "wellbeing creation". But what exactly does that look like in practice?
It begins with school-aged children and finding a school that suits them and supports them emotionally, according to the study. "The strongest factor predicting a happy adult life is not children's qualifications but their emotional health," the report says.
"There is also powerful evidence that schools have a big impact on children's emotional health, and which school a child goes to will affect their emotional wellbeing as much as it affects their exam performance." As people reach adulthood and the decade's pass, we must ensure their bodies, minds, and their relationships are all given equal weight as part of their overall health.
Primary care practitioners do a good job at keeping our physical bodies healthy, and it's important to have a sound relationship with a GP. You need somebody you feel comfortable talking to; a practitioner that doesn't make you feel judged, embarrassed, or like an insignificant number who needs to be pushed through to get to the next patient.
Mental health, as already noted, is a neglected part of the average person's health. We don't see the problems "in our heads" as serious as we should, and that can change by removing the stigma around mental health care.
We can all do this by reaching out to people we think are struggling, and simply asking them if they'd like to talk to somebody about it. If they express any kind of desire to, help them find the appropriate professional – it could start with phoning a helpline or talking to a GP, or approaching a counsellor or therapist.
Changing the way we support each other through times of difficult mental health circumstances can pave the way for a culture of early intervention. When mental health issues are addressed sooner, they are less likely to contribute to long-term misery.
Health on the relationships front is hard to grapple because relationships do fail and people are left emotionally hurt. It's a fact of life. However, romantic relationships aren't the only kind of relationships we have. There are numerous studies out there showing how positively people benefit when they have close relationships with friends, and, conversely, a lot of research points to the detrimental effects of loneliness without regular social contact with such friends.
Building strong friendships should thus become a health priority because there's strong evidence that our overall health is better when we are socially satisfied. Continually monitoring these three aspects of our lives and not letting any of them fall by the wayside is vital in preventing human misery.
In putting our efforts into them (and taking some focus away from money) the research suggests our happiness rates could vastly increase.
Words by Lee Suckling