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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)

Did you know 'International Day of Happiness' falls annually on 20 March? Mark it in your diary as it's your chance to celebrate.

The event isn't intended to put pressure on you to feel instantly content. The idea is it serves as a reminder to find joy in what you already have, or think about what you still want to manifest in your life.

And if you need a little boost to do that – it can help to look at the numbers.

Curious? Here's how to count yourself lucky.

Read more: Here's what happens to your body when you're happy

Who wants to be a millionaire?

Happy number: 30,000

They say that money can’t buy happiness and that is likely true, thought it can make things easier. According to a study from July 2020, it's thought you need to earn a minimum amount to be 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 feeling their best when they earned over £30,000 a year, just one thousand pounds more than the average UK salary.

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

But that amount differed slightly depending on location. Londoners were happier when they earned over £41,000 a year, while those in Hereford only needed an annual salary of just under £26,000 to feel happy.

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 people felt their levels of anxiety rose between their mid-20s and mid-50s, but those who were happier, more satisfied and felt a greater sense of self-worth were in their earlier years — and again when they approached older age.

The wellbeing research was introduced in 2010 by the then Prime Minister, David Cameron. "It’s time we admitted that there’s more to life than money and it’s time we focused not just on GDP but on GWB – general wellbeing," the former PM said.

Read more: Is it really better to have 'loved and lost'? Not according to experts

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.

However, research from Instaprint in 2020 found that working from home is saving us time, with more than a quarter (27%) of UK adults saving an average of an hour each day. But while some were using this for hobbies, relaxing and sleeping, others used the time to work for longer, with boundaries more blurred.

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 is needed to boost our mood for up to 12 hours.

It doesn’t matter what kind of exercise you do – whether it's 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 kids.

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.

Read more: From finding money in your pocket to waking up to blue skies, Brits top 50 little thrills revealed

Maintain friendships

Happy number: 85,000

Two happy friends in car. (Getty Images)
Friendships are priceless. (Getty Images)

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.

Happy counting!

Watch: 5 tips to boost your mental health