Insights into happiness, satisfaction and achievement

ESI achievementIn my last blog I wrote about the three research projects I’d undertaken as part of my work with ESI Media. One was about Commuter Commerce, another was about Londoners and the final one was called Achievement.

Project Achievement was designed to show what it means to achieve these days, how people measure their own sense of achievement and what it all means to marketers. There’s a short film all about it, which you can view here.

However, you can get only so much information into a four-minute film. In this blog piece I’ve chosen to describe some of the findings that didn’t make it in. They provide some interesting insights into happiness, satisfaction and achievement.

The research findings are based on online research amongst 1,300 respondents representative of people online in the UK aged 18-65. The questionnaire was ‘in field’ shortly after the UK’s Brexit vote.

The findings show that 79% of respondents believe in a divided Britain, split between those able to achieve and those unable. However, two thirds believe they’re on the side able to achieve.

The majority of people who voted for Brexit feel they are on the side able to achieve and that is also the case for those voting Remain. Remainers are marginally more likely to feel enabled, but only marginally.

Those who sense they’re able to achieve feel enabled to do so by their education, aptitude, education and knowledge of what is going on in the world. It’s a fast changing world so they need to keep up. All these factors are notably personal to them.

Those who feel unable to achieve blame factors that are less under their control: the economy, politicians and the social background they were born into.

Feeling able to achieve, however, is different to feeling that you have already achieved. Whilst 79% feel able to achieve, only 22% feel they have already done better than those they compete against. Most (55%) feel they have done no better and no worse, so far.

Although people concentrate on achieving in their relationships and job day to day, people measure how well they’re achieving in life by the great experiences they’re having. It’s one thing to do well, but you won’t truly feel you’re doing well unless you’re having experiences that show it.

Measuring achievement in great experiences is not just a millennial thing, as I suspected it might be before breaking that finding down by age. It is done to a similar degree across the ages. Salary and job title as measures of achievement, on the other hand, become less important measures of success as we age.

Between the ages of 18 and 54 people are most likely to compare themselves against their friends to judge how well they’re doing in life. However, this emphasis on friends falls steeply through the decades.

After 55 people view things with a wider lens and are then more likely to judge their own achievements against those of the population at large; their parents and colleagues, rather than the achievements of their friends.

Peoples’ biggest driver, when it comes to achievement, is the desire to do no worse than their friends, rather than a desire to do better. Only 35% of those who compare themselves to their friends want to do better than them.  Behavioural economists will see this finding as proof that loss aversion is a bigger driver than going for a win.

It is little different between men and women. The desire to achieve more than your friends is not a testosterone thing.

It is an age thing though. At 18-25, there is a more even divide between those wanting to best their friends and those wanting only to do no worse than them. By age 55 only one in five still want to nail their friends at the game of life.

Marriage makes people no more or less likely to want achieve more than those they compete with. Having kids does, though. Two fifths of parents want to do better than those they compete against.

And London seems to drive or attract competitiveness too. In the capital half those in the workforce want to do better than their friends.

However, competing with friends is a bad idea, you’re more likely to feel you’re doing less well in life than if you compete against, for example, your colleagues or your community.

It’s a matter of self-selection, of course. People tend to pick friends they like and that reflect well on them. In doing so they lengthen the odds of feeling like they’re doing better than them. So, compete against other people or pick less impressive friends.

So how can you feel happy about your achievements in life? Take a leaf from Del Trotter, “This time next year, Rodney…” You won’t be alone. Most of us feel enabled to achieve even if we aren’t winning yet.

Rely on your own attributes and don’t be ground down by factors you can’t control.

Enjoy the fruit of your success. You can’t take money with you when you die and great experiences show you you’re doing well. It needn’t be selfish. For example, charities are coming up with great experiential ways to help those less fortunate.

Finally, choose whom you compete against wisely. It’s healthy to have friends you admire but competing against them will give you a mountain to climb. If you’re super-competitive, go for it. If not, try only to do no worse than your friends – or benchmark yourself against others.

And remember there’s a happy ending. By the end of your working life you’re likely to view your successes with a wide lens, comparing them against the nation as a whole. It’s a sense of perspective it takes a working-lifetime to achieve.


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