Our view of what makes us happy has changed since 1938. In the United States of 1938, for example, it was a good thing not to have heat waves and droughts and a Dust Bowl across 75 percent of the country. It would have made people happy to be out of the Great Depression instead of politicians telling them it had long been over.
Heat waves, droughts, and politicians claiming things are great because Wall Street executives are making money? 1938 does sound a lot like 2015.
Today at the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society in Liverpool, psychologist Sandie McHugh from the University of Bolton unveiled a recreation of an unscientific survey about happiness conducted in Bolton in 1938.
In 1938, Mass Observation placed an advertisement in the the Bolton Evening News asking readers to answer the question 'What is happiness?'. A total of 226 people sent letters in reply, and they were asked to help compile a happiness index by rating the importance of ten factors ranging from beauty to more security and religion.
Last year, McHugh and Professor Jerome Carson repeated the Mass Observation survey by asking people from the town, via the Bolton News, to complete a questionnaire that repeated the questions from 1938 as closely was possible. They then compared the new findngs with those from 1938.
What 1938 and 2014 share in common - and what they don't
In 1938 security, knowledge and religion were the three most important aspects of happiness. In 2014, good humor and leisure replace knowledge and religion, though security remained in the top three. Religion fell to 10th in 2014.
In 1938 the majority of people said they were happiest when they were in Bolton, but in 2014 63 percent were happier somewhere else.
In 1938, people wanted "Enough money to meet everyday needs and a little for pleasure" while in 2014 they prefer "Knowing that my rent is paid on time and I can afford to eat healthily."
In 1938 people said, "I would like a little home, not many possessions ... congenial and satisfying companionship, the availabity of good music and books" while in 2014 people prefer "Engaging in my hobbies, spending time that is free of worry ... Simple things like enjoying a nice meal or receiving care and affection."