Warwick research shows 1957 was the happiest year in Britain

Happiness levels have never been as high as they were in 1957

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The University of Warwick, along with the Social Market Foundation have found that, despite illnesses such as polio, fewer utilities in most households, and post-war problems, 1957 was the happiest year of the last century for Britain and we have not been able to maintain this happiness since.

The researchers analysed the frequency and use of positive and negative words in eight million books from 1776 to 2009. These words included ‘peaceful’, ‘enjoyment’ and ‘happiness’, as well as ‘stress’ and ‘unhappy’.

Associate Economics lecturer at Warwick University, and co-author of the report, Dr Daniel Sgroi, said: “In 1957, memories of the Second World War and the period of austerity that followed were still fresh in the mind of the nation, perhaps helping people to appreciate what they had.”

He continued: “It may be that people in the 1950s had a greater sense of realism about happiness.”

Today, the average property value in the UK is £216,750, compared to £2,021 in 1957. We seem drastically less able to deal with everyday issues in our lives. The researchers suggest that the key reason for the increased happiness in 1957 is that, after rationing was over and people lived in the age of Elvis Presley and the rise of Sputnik, people simply had more realistic expectations of happiness and were more appreciative of their current situation.

1957 was also the year of the Queen’s first televised Christmas message, now watched by almost 7.5 million people. There were just 4 million cars on the road, a significant reduction from the 37 million we see today, meaning drastically fewer traffic jams. Finally, the most popular gift in 1957 was the yo-yo; it seems yo-yos made people significantly happier than an iPad or a new smartphone!

The research found that those in larger social networks or with lower expectations are the most likely to be happiest. “We have similar research which suggests group identity is important for happiness. While there is much more individualism now, in the 1950s people were more likely to feel as if they had a common goal, so could for example leave their door open when they went out because they trusted their neighbours”, added Dr Sgroi.

“Now we are more aware of what is happening in the world than people were then, but this could be making us unhappier. And people now have to face pressures put upon them, such as work stress, which might have increased.”