The secret to happiness? Believing you have more SEX than your neighbours
Major study finds that keeping up with the Joneses in the bedroom is an important source of satisfaction
Researchers compare the happiness effect to income - we want to know we are doing as well as others
We all know people who aren’t happy unless they have a better house, car or job than the neighbours.
Now it seems there’s another way to keep up with the Joneses – in the bedroom.
Believing that they are having more sex than their neighbours is a crucial happiness factor for couples, says Tim Wadsworth, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Colorado Boulder
Professor Tim Wadsworth, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Colorado Boulder, analysed data collected between 1993 and 2006 from the General Social Survey, an opinion poll which has monitored the psyche of American society since 1972.
In total, he studied data collected from 15,386 people.
Since the beginning of the survey, all respondents have been asked whether they are ‘very happy’, ‘pretty happy’ or ‘not too happy’.
After taking factors including income, marital status, health and age into account, respondents who had sex at least two to three times a month were 33 per cent more likely to report a higher level of happiness than those who had no sex during the previous 12 months.
Prof Wadsworth found that people reported steadily higher levels of happiness as they reported steadily more regular sex .
Those who had sex once a week were 44 per cent happier than those had not had sex for a year, whilst those who had sex two to three times a week were 55 per cent more likely to report a higher level of happiness.
But his study, entitled ‘Sex and the Pursuit of Happiness: How Other People’s Sex Lives are Related to Our Sense of Well-Being’, also found that those who were having sex but believed they were having less sex than their peers were unhappier than those who believed they were having as much or more than their peers.
He found that if members of a peer group were having sex two to three times a month but believed their peers were on a once-weekly schedule, their probability of reporting a higher level of happiness fell by about 14 per cent.
He said: ‘There's an overall increase in the sense of wellbeing that comes with having sex more frequently, but there's also this relative aspect to it.
‘Having more sex makes us happy, but thinking that we are having more sex than other people makes us even happier.’
But while income can be guessed from a neighbour's new car, sex is a more clandestine activity.
So how do men and women know how frequently their peers are have sex?
Prof Wadsworth says that the mass media provides people with clues.
Wadsworth noted that magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Men's Health, frequently reported the results of their own or others' sex surveys.
Conversations within friendship groups also suggest how much peers are getting intimate.
‘There is plenty of evidence that information concerning sexual behaviour is learned through discussions within peer groups and friendship networks,’ added Prof Wadsworth.
‘I can't think of a better explanation for why how much sex other people are having would influence a person's happiness.'
He added that, as a species, we tend to worry that we are not measuring up to an ideal.
‘We're usually not looking down [on people] and thinking of ourselves as better off. We're usually looking up and feeling insufficient and inadequate.