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They do not always elicit the same response: having children, for instance, tends to make people feel better about their life as a whole, but also increases the chance that they felt angry or anxious yesterday.
Statisticians trawl through the vast quantities of data these surveys produce rather as miners panning for gold.
This personality trait may help explain some cross-cultural differences: a study comparing similar groups of British, Chinese and Japanese people found that the British were, on average, both more extrovert and happier than the Chinese and Japanese. All sorts of things in people's lives, such as relationships, education, income and health, shape the way they feel.
Being married gives people a considerable uplift, but not as big as the gloom that springs from being unemployed.
Which suggests either that women are more likely to experience more extreme emotions, or that a few women are more miserable than men, while most are more cheerful.
Two personality traits shine through the complexity of economists' regression analyses: neuroticism and extroversion.
Whereas neuroticism tends to make for gloomy types, extroversion does the opposite.
Those who like working in teams and who relish parties tend to be happier than those who shut their office doors in the daytime and hole up at home in the evenings.
But some economists, unconvinced that there is a direct relationship between money and well-being, have decided to go to the nub of the matter and measure happiness itself.These ideas have penetrated the policy arena, starting in Bhutan, where the concept of Gross National Happiness shapes the planning process.All new policies have to have a GNH assessment, similar to the environmental-impact assessment common in other countries.“We ran a conference about it, but nobody came.” Since then, interest in the U-bend has been growing.Its effect on happiness is significant—about half as much, from the nadir of middle age to the elderly peak, as that of unemployment. David Blanchflower, professor of economics at Dartmouth College, and Mr Oswald looked at the figures for 72 countries.