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What made us happy 80 years ago isn't what makes us happy today
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McHugh noted that in 1938, the happiness factors of security, knowledge and religion were viewed as the top three determinants. In 2014, respondents said that security was still among the top three, but good humor and leisure claimed the top two spots. - photo by Tyler Stahle
In 1938, Mass Observation placed a small advertisement in the Bolton Evening News in Bolton, England, asking readers to respond to the simple question, What is happiness?

Throughout the following weeks, more than 200 letters arrived at the office, each bearing the things the reader considered to bring the most happiness. The responses were recorded, and a happiness index was complied by researchers organizing the top 10 happiness factors.

Now, nearly 80 years later, University of Bolton psychologist Sandie McHugh has re-created the same study. In a similar fashion, McHugh and her colleague, Jerome Carson, sent a questionnaire via the Bolton News to the people of the city asking almost identical questions to gauge their happiness.

The comparison of the results from 1938 to those of 2014 reveal interesting insights as to how peoples views of happiness have changed over the decades.

McHugh noted that in 1938, the happiness factors of security, knowledge and religion were viewed as the top three determinants. In 2014, respondents said that security was still among the top three, but good humor and leisure claimed the top two spots.

The overall impression from the correspondence in 1938 is that happiness factors were rooted in everyday lives at home and within the community, said McHugh, as reported in sciencedaily.com. In 2014, many comments value family and friends, while good humour and leisure time also ranked highly.

Religion, which was viewed as the third most important happiness factor in 1938, took the biggest hit, falling to tenth (and last) place in 2014.

Although results from McHughs study represent the views of people living in Bolton, England, the declining trend of religious activity isnt confined to a specific geographic region.

Religiosity in the United States is in the midst of what might be called The Great Decline. Previous declines in religion pale in comparison, wrote Tobin Grant for Religion News Service. Over the past fifteen years, the drop in religiosity has been twice as great as the decline of the 1960s and the 1970s.

And the decline doesnt look to be flattening out anytime soon.

According to a 2012 poll from the Pew Research Center, one of every five Americans and a third of adults under the age of 30 reported being unaffiliated with any religion.

However, just because people reported no religious affiliation doesnt necessarily mean that theyre not religious, further Pew research indicates.

Of the 46 million Americans who declared themselves religiously unaffiliated, 68 percent of them say they believe in God and nearly 40 percent of them feel that they are spiritual but not religious.

But despite a belief in God and feelings of spirituality, many Americans fear that the declining interest in religious affiliation threatens the future of the nation.

Most people and in fact a growing share of people think that religions influence is waning, and they tend to view that as a very negative thing, said Gregory Smith, Pews associate director of research in an interview with Mark Kellner of the Deseret News National last year. They push back against it, and the desire to see it involved in politics is growing.

According to William Simon Jr., member of the board of trustees of The Heritage Foundation, the strength of the American nation is in the faith of its citizens.

Religion in America is far from an inviolably private issue; essentially, it is a national issue, he wrote. So, why does America need religion? It is not too much to say that as faith goes in America, so goes freedom.
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