Research from LSE’s Centre for Economic Performance (CEP) has found that taking a happiness course in your local area can raise life satisfaction more than getting a long-term partner, or finding employment.
The ‘Exploring What Matters’ course developed by the UK charity Action for Happiness - and backed by the Dalai Lama - has been evaluated by a Randomised Controlled Trial (RCT) carried out by the CEP and the Wellbeing Research Centre at Oxford University, as part of the evidence programme of the What Works Centre for Wellbeing .
The course was led by volunteers and takes place face-to-face in local communities over 8 weekly sessions. It is offered on a donation-basis - so it remains accessible to everyone - and run in hundreds of locations across the UK.
The trial found that, relative to a control group, the course provides large and statistically significant benefits in three areas: personal wellbeing, mental health and pro-sociality.
In terms of personal wellbeing, Life Satisfaction increases by around one whole point on the 0-10 scale, from an average of 6.4 out of 10 before the course to 7.4 after the course. This increase (+1.0) is greater than those from other major life events such as being partnered as opposed to single (+0.59) or being employed as opposed to unemployed (+0.7), when compared with findings from other cross-sectional studies of wellbeing in the UK. Change in Life Satisfaction (0-10 scale).
In terms of mental health, the trial found the course significantly decreased depression by about 50% of a standard deviation, and decreased anxiety by 42%.
Prior to the course, participants reported average scores corresponding to a clinical symptomatology of mild depression and anxiety. After the course, these scores reduced to a symptomatology of minimal depression and anxiety, the lowest category for both measures.
In terms of pro-sociality, the trial found that participating in the course can make participants more likely to act in ways which help others, with large and statistically significant increases in levels of Compassion and Social Trust.
Professor Jan-Emmanuel De Neve of the CEP and Oxford University said: "The results were really impressive: the course delivers large and statistically significant improvements in wellbeing and reductions in mental health symptoms. Although further research is needed to understand the long term implications, it is clear that this intervention has huge potential and really does work”.