Mustn't grumble: the British are happy, despite being gloomy

The British public is largely happy despite being gloomy about their country's circumstances and prospects, according to our Global Trends Survey.

The British public is largely happy despite being gloomy about their country’s circumstances and prospects, according to new analysis by Ipsos MORI. The findings come from Ipsos MORI online surveys conducted across 20 and 24 countries at the end of 20131.

1. The British public are happy but mostly mildly so

Britons are happy by a margin of just under 4 to 1; 79% against 20% who say they are ‘not very happy’ or ‘not happy at all’.

Breaking this down, one in six, 16%, say they are ‘very happy’ and more than six in ten, 63%, are ‘rather happy’. By contrast, a little under a fifth, 18%, are ‘not very happy’ with 2% ‘not happy at all’.

2. Happiness is as high in Britain as it was at the end of 2008 but we’re less likely to be ‘very happy’

In October 2008, 76% of Britons said they were happy including 19% ‘very happy’. By December 2012, this improved slightly to 78% and 19% respectively. In December 2013, it was 79% and 16%.

Our pre-downturn measures in April and October 2007 both recorded happiness at 84% - but in November that year just over a third of Britons, 34%, were ‘very happy’ – twice the level that we see in 2013.

3. Happiness levels are higher in Britain than the average across 24 countries but the proportion ‘very happy’ is below average

Britain’s 79% ‘happy’ score compares to 75% across 24 countries. It is higher than scores in thirteen of the 23 other countries surveyed, lower than ten.

Happiness ranges from 53% in Hungary and 58% in Spain, to 86% in Canada and 92% in Indonesia.

While 16% of Britons say they are ‘very happy’ – higher than the 11% in France and Germany – this is notably lower than Sweden and Turkey (both 22%) and the average across all countries (20%).

4. Levels of happiness are not uniform across Britain

As other surveys have shown, levels of happiness vary across different socio-economic groups and geographies. Women (78%) are more likely to say they are happy compared with men (74%) while parents (83%) express greater levels of happiness compared with those who do not have children (72%)

Younger Britons are also more likely to say they are happy – 82% of those in the 16-24 age group.

Britons who assess their health as good are more likely to say they are happy (86%) compared with those who consider themselves to be in poor health (46%). Similarly 85% of those expressing satisfaction with their weight say they are happy compared with 69% of those who are dissatisfied with their weight.

Those satisfied with local public services express higher levels of happiness than those who are dissatisfied with local public services such as public transport, education, safety and local services (86% versus 68%).

Those rating their personal financial situation as strong (7 or 6 in a 7-part scale) are nearly twice as likely to say they are happy compared with those who rate it as weak (1 or 2) – 94% versus 50%.

5. Happiness is despite, not because of, what we think of Britain...

The 79% of Britons who say they are happy compares with 76% who are negative about the country’s economic situation, 65% who consider Britain to be heading on the wrong track and 59% who are dissatisfied with the way the Government is running the country.

People are over three times as likely to say they are happy than feel optimistic about Britain over the next 12 months (25%). They are also nearly twice as likely to say they are happy than say they’re satisfied with their standard of living (45%).

Bobby Duffy, Managing Director of the Ipsos MORI Social Research Institute, said:

“Soon after becoming Prime Minister, David Cameron famously said that 'Improving our society's sense of wellbeing is, I believe, the central political challenge of our times'. "Our time-series suggests that happiness in Britain has not fallen off a cliff during recessionary times but neither has it yet been lifted by the recent recovery. Britons are famed for having a ‘mustn’t grumble’ outlook and while the mood is stubbornly negative about the country, they are consistently more positive about their prospects and, as this survey shows, they are largely happy.”

Technical Note

  • The survey was conducted in 24 countries via the Ipsos Online Panel with a total sample of 18,153 adults aged 18-64 in the US and Canada, and age 16-64 in all other countries. Approximately 1000+ individuals were surveyed in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Spain, Great Britain and the United States of America. Approximately 500+ individuals were surveyed in Argentina, Belgium, Hungary, Indonesia, Mexico, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden and Turkey. The survey was undertaken between December 3rd and December 17th, 2013.
  • As above across 20 countries (excluding Hungary, Indonesia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia) and undertaken between September 3rd and September 17th 2013.
  • Where results do not sum to 100, this may be due to computer rounding, multiple responses or the exclusion of don't knows or not stated responses.
  • Data are weighted to balance demographics and ensure that the sample's composition reflects that of the adult population according to the most recent country Census data, and to provide results intended to approximate the sample universe. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error, and measurement error.
  • In countries where internet penetration is approximately 60% or higher, the data output is considered to reflect the general population: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Poland, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom and United States. The nine remaining countries surveyed – Brazil (45.6% Internet penetration among its residents), China (41%), India (11.4%), Indonesia (22.1%), Mexico (36.5%), Russia (47.7%), South Africa (17.4%) and Turkey (45.7%)—have lower levels of connectivity. The samples in these countries are therefore considered reflective of the online populations in these countries and tend to be more urban and have higher levels of education and income than the general population.


Q: Taking all things together, would you say you are very happy, rather happy, not very happy or not happy at all?

Country Happy (very happy and rather happy)
 Indonesia 92%
 Canada 86%
 Sweden 85%
 Australia 84%
 USA 84%
 India 84%
 Brazil  82%
 Belgium 82%
 China  82%
 South Africa  81%
 Great Britain  79%
 France  79%
 Turkey  77%
 Germany  77%
 Saudi Arabia  76%
 Average  75%
 Mexico  73%
 Poland  73%
 Italy  69%
 Japan 66%
 Argentina  65%
 South Korea  61%
 Russia  59%
 Spain  58%
 Hungary  53%

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