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Alcohol makes you momentarily happier but not more satisfied

May 04, 2016

Research suggests people are momentarily happier when drinking alcohol -- but that over longer periods, drinking more does not make them more satisfied with life.

The research, led by a social policy expert at the University of Kent, also found that people who developed drinking problems were less satisfied with life.

Although the effect of alcohol on happiness is often discussed during debates about alcohol policy and regulation, it has rarely been the subject of serious academic study. Instead, governments have simply used the economist assumption that everyone always acts rationally and in their best interests -- even when they are drunk or addicted to alcohol.

The study considered how people's happiness and drinking change alongside each other over a period of time. The authors, Dr Ben Baumberg Geiger of the University's School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, and Dr George MacKerron of the University of Sussex, made use of both an iPhone-based app and a traditional cohort study to generate the findings.

The results suggested that, after making allowances for other factors such as illness that can effect wellbeing, there was no connection between people's drinking and their happiness over a period of time. The exception to this was in situations where alcohol became a problem, leading to reduced feelings of wellbeing.

Both studies took into account other possible explanations for the relationship between alcohol and happiness, although the authors concede that being absolutely sure that alcohol is causing momentary happiness is difficult. They also acknowledge that those involved in the studies are not representative of the whole population. The first study involved iPhone users, who tend to be young and wealthy, while the second study looks only at 30-42 year olds.

But the study does offer at least some robust evidence when policymakers previously had nothing but 'pub talk' to rely on, say the paper's authors. They hope the research will help policymakers properly take happiness into account when doing cost-benefit analyses of alcohol regulation -- and therefore make better, more transparent decisions about which policies will benefit the population and which won't.
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The research, entitled Can alcohol make you happy? A subjective wellbeing approach, was partly funded by the UK Medical Research Council (MRC) and Economic and Social Research Council. It is published in the journal Social Science & Medicine. Full study available here: http://authors.elsevier.com/a/1Spel-CmUa4qW

For further information or interview requests contact Martin Herrema at the University of Kent Press Office.
Tel: 01227-823581/01634-888879
Email: M.J.Herrema@kent.ac.uk

News releases can also be found at http://www.kent.ac.uk/news

University of Kent on Twitter: http://twitter.com/UniKent

Note to editors

1. In the first study, iPhone users provided more than two million responses at random moments during the day using the 'Mappiness' app, telling the researchers what they were doing, with whom, and how happy they were. Compared to themselves at other moments, people were four points happier on a 0-100 scale when drinking - although only a little of this happiness 'spilled over' into times that they were not drinking.

The second study tracked 25,000 people born in 1970 at the ages of 30, 34 and 42, and looked at whether they were more satisfied with life overall at times that they drank more or less.

2. Ben Baumberg Geiger has worked on alcohol policy for over ten years, doing reports for the European Commission and World Health Organization, and from 2004-2008 working for the Institute of Alcohol Studies. He is currently a Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Kent and Co-Director of the Kent Q-Step Centre, which helps social science students understand the world through numbers. Further details are at http://www.benbaumberg.com

George MacKerron is a Lecturer in Economics at the University of Sussex. His research is focused on subjective wellbeing and the environment, and he leads the 'Mappiness' research study. Further details are at http://mackerron.com/.

3.Established in 1965, the University of Kent -- the UK's European university -- now has almost 20,000 students across campuses or study centres at Canterbury, Medway, Tonbridge, Brussels, Paris, Athens and Rome.

It has been ranked: third for overall student satisfaction in the 2014 National Student Survey; 16th in the Guardian University Guide 2016; 23rd in the Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2016; and 22nd in the Complete University Guide 2015.

In the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2015-16, Kent is in the top 10% of the world's leading universities for international outlook and 66th in its table of the most international universities in the world. The THE also ranked the University as 20th in its 'Table of Tables' 2016.

Kent is ranked 17th in the UK for research intensity (REF 2014). It has world-leading research in all subjects and 97% of its research is deemed by the REF to be of international quality.

Along with the universities of East Anglia and Essex, Kent is a member of the Eastern Arc Research Consortium.

The University is worth £0.7 billion to the economy of the south east and supports more than 7,800 jobs in the region. Student off-campus spend contributes £293.3m and 2,532 full-time-equivalent jobs to those totals.

In 2014, Kent received its second Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education.

University of Kent

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