How to be happy: The numbers that add up to a better life

Happy senior woman and adult daughter laughing on porch.
How to be happy by focusing on the numbers that add up to a better life. (Getty Images)

When it comes to lifting ourselves out of the gloom and truly feeling happy, it can help to look at the numbers.

Here's how to count yourself lucky.

Who wants to be a millionaire?

Happy number: 30,000

They say that money can’t buy happiness and that might be true. But according to a study from July 2020, you do need to earn a minimum amount to be really content.

Researchers looked at the average salary in the top 10 happiest cities in the UK – including Winchester, Cambridge and St Albans – and found that people were happiest when earning over £30,000, just one thousand pounds more than the average UK salary.

When they looked at the average salary for true contentment, there was a statistical sweet spot of a minimum £33,864.

But that amount differed slightly depending on location. Londoners were happier when they earned over £41,000 while those in Hereford only needed to earn just under £26,000.

Is age just a number?

Happy numbers: 16 and 70

A teenage girl with grandmother at home, hugging. Family and generations concept.
16 + 70 = happy (Getty Images)

When it comes to being happy, people in the UK are most content when they are either 16 or 70 years old.

A paper in 2019 that looked at a seven-year study of Office of National Statistics (ONS) data found that while people felt their levels of anxiety rise between their mid-20s and mid-50s, they were happier, more satisfied and feel a greater sense of self-worth in their earlier years – and again when they approach older age.

Read more: Happiness expert Gretchen Rubin shares the habits that 'put me in a beautiful place'

The wellbeing research was introduced in 2010 by prime minister at the time, David Cameron. "It’s time we admitted that that’s more to life than money and it’s time we focused not just on GDP but on GWB – general wellbeing," he said.

Finding free time

Happy number: 7

Cheerful positive family cute small funny kids children daughters enjoying tickling playing lifestyle game with young happy mum embracing laughing having fun relaxing sitting on sofa at home together
Free time is a precious commodity. (Getty Images)

With only 24 hours in the day and six to eight of those spent sleeping, how much free time should we be having to keep ourselves happy?

The answer, according to research from 2017 is just under seven hours – or six hours and 59 minutes to be precise – for the perfect work/life balance.

Unfortunately, this is way off the four hours and 14 minutes of free time per day the report claimed we had at the time. In fact, it seems that free time has been decreasing steadily over the years due to overtime and long working hours.

Whether the pandemic and new ‘working from home’ rules will make a difference remains to be seen.

Exercise yourself happy

Happy number: 20

Group of multiethnic mature people stretching arms outdoor. Middle aged yoga class doing breathing exercise at park. Beautifil women and fit men doing breath exercise together with outstretched arms.
20 little minutes can make a big difference. (Getty Images)

We all know that exercise can have a positive chemical effect on our brains, reducing stress and improving our mood. But how much do we need to do daily to feel the effect?

According to the University of Vermont only 20 minutes of exercise can boost our mood for up to 12 hours.

It doesn’t matter what kind of exercise you do – whether running, swimming or walking – but simply raising the heart rate and getting a light sweat on for 20 minutes will send endorphins running around the body.

Don't have too many children

Happy number: 2

Although in some countries such as Norway and Hungary, parents are happier than non-parents, in the UK, it seems that childless couples have happier marriages.

Researchers from the Open University questioned 5,000 people over two years and found that people were more likely to feel valued by their partner if they did not have children.

Read more: 7 ways exercise makes you happy — and how much you need to improve your mood

But if you DO want a family, what’s the best number to have if you want to be content? One study from the mid-2000s indicated that a second or third child didn’t make parents happier.

But a more recent study from Europe found that two was the magic number and that having any more did not bring parents extra happiness.

Maintain friendships

Happy number: 85,000

Harvard happiness expert and author of Stumbling on Happiness, Dan Gilbert, says what brings us the most happiness is family and friends.

In fact, if you were to put a price tag on friendship, researchers have found that increasing the level of social interaction with friends and relatives is estimated to be worth up to an extra £85,000 a year to each individual.

This is compared to only £50,000 a year for getting married.

Watch: 5 tips to boost your mental health