Sex tops the happiness list

GEORGINA STYLIANOU
Last updated 10:12 12/11/2012

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Sex and partying give us the most pleasure but partying is less meaningful, research suggests.

A University of Canterbury study has found pleasure, meaning and engagement are vital components of overall happiness.

While sex came out on top on all three scales, drinking alcohol or partying was ranked 10th in meaning and fifth in engagement.

Postgraduate psychology researcher Carsten Grimm asked 173 people to rank 30 common activities.

He found washing, dressing and grooming ranked last in terms of engagement, while feeling sick was lowest rated in terms of overall happiness.

Facebook rated last in meaning, while texting was 26th in happiness and 18th in meaning.

The ''recent boom'' in happiness research has seen everyone from academics to governments take an interest in ways to measure and track it, Grimm said.

''Treasury is now including well-being measures, or life satisfaction, in its higher living standards framework so governments are into this well-being stuff,'' he said.

He said the focus had mainly been on life satisfaction but happiness was ''far more complicated''.

Grimm's research looked into ''orientations to happiness'', including pleasure, engagement and meaning.

''Endorsing pleasure as a way to happiness means you enjoy eating dessert first or you focus on feeling good and enjoying sensory pleasures. Engagement is what you experience when you're totally absorbed in what you're doing.''

He said having meaning meant  pursuing happiness by feeling part of something bigger and contributing to the greater good .

''Having sex is, no surprise, highest on all measures of happiness. Being sick is, again no surprise, relatively low on all measures,'' he said.

''Going to lectures, or studying, is low on pleasure and happiness but ranks relatively high on meaning.''

He said people who enjoyed a mixture of pleasure, meaning and engagement not only scored highly on life satisfaction but were happier in daily life.

Paid work ranked 24th on the happiness chart on the list of 30 activities, while shopping or running errands came in ninth.

The director of Christchurch-based Life Coach Associates Clem McGrath said employers were starting to ''pay a bit more attention'' to job satisfaction and the effect on an employee's life.

''But New Zealand is nowhere near catching up to the likes of Australia and the United States,'' he said.

''I have clients who tell me their bosses take the stance that if you can't take the heat then get out of the kitchen, and that is very 19th-century thinking.''

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McGrath said people needed a balance of activities to contribute to their happiness, but ''ultimately it doesn't depend on external factors''.

- Fairfax Media

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