You probably already suspected this, but people in the UK are not feeling altogether happy with life. For the first time since the Office for National Statistics started measuring wellbeing, indexes of both life satisfaction and the feeling that things done in life are worthwhile have declined significantly.
After a trend of rising life satisfaction between 2011 and 2016 and plateauing scores until late 2018, the measure of contentment fell for the first time in the quarter to autumn 2019, according to data released on Thursday.
At the same time an index of “feelings that the things done in life are worthwhile” also fell, making it the first time both had dipped significantly year on year since 2011, when the statistics body began measuring wellbeing and happiness.
“It is the first significant change since early 2015 in what was a stable picture of life satisfaction in the UK,” the statisticians said.
A third measure of “happiness” also dipped while average anxiety ratings remained at an elevated level in the quarter to September 2019, with about 10.6 million people feeling high anxiety.
The figures come from the government’s annual population survey, a continuous household survey capturing data from 320,000 people, the largest of its type.
Any consequences of our mood and happiness resulting from the December general election and Britain’s departure from the EU last week will not be known until later in the year, when figures are released for those periods.
The ONS suggests the dip in the national mood could be linked to households’ economic worries, even though they may not be well-founded.
The data showed that household expectations about future unemployment worsened in the last year, even though actual unemployment continued to fall.
The statisticians said the deterioration in personal wellbeing would reflect those worries it suggested could have been caused by widespread media coverage of business failures, with Debenhams going into administration and Boots and Marks & Spencer among those announcing store closures.
Equally, households’ expectations for the future of the economy as a whole continued to decline as they have done since 2014, becoming increasingly negative. That is despite households’ views of their own financial situation improving and becoming more positive.
“Expectations about the economy were reflected in real household spending per person which grew at its slowest rate since the end of 2016,” the ONS said. People were spending less on cars than in 2016, and spending on recreation, culture and holidays also slowed over the last two years.
All of the measures of happiness and wellbeing remain higher than in the immediate aftermath of the financial crash.
Other recent research has shown more subtle influences on happiness, such as the trend towards more flexible working.
A survey last month of families found that half of all parents able to work remotely or from home said that doing so had probably increased the hours they work for no extra pay. The charity Working Families found that parents working outside of their contracted hours were more likely to feel stressed. Of those parents staying in “work mode, 54% said work led to arguments with their children, and 57% said it contributed to arguments with partners.