Being out of work is as dangerous as smoking 400 cigarettes a day because working makes us happy, a Professor has claimed.
Unemployed young adult males are 40 times more likely to commit suicide than their working counterparts and are also more likely to suffer depression, illness or even die, it was claimed.
statistically, the health risks of being out of work for six months or more are equivalent to smoking 20 packet of cigarettes a day, said a professor at Cardiff University.
Prof Mansel Aylward advised us to wander to work with a spring in our step and a smile on our face, happy to avoid the depression of unemployment.
He said doctors should be concerned about getting people back to work rather than writing sicknotes because being out of work could be more risky that working on an oil platform or as a safari guide.
His analysis of figures from the Office of National Statistics show the depressed unemployed risk serious illness and even death, with young unemployed men 40 times more likely to commit suicide than their working peers
But Professor Aylward, Director of Cardiff University’s Centre for Psychosocial and Disability research, also said work can only make us so happy because we each have a threshold that limits how happy we can be.
His studies reveal that people become happier after winning the lottery - but their happiness levels soon return to the same as they were before the win.
Prof Aylward said work kept people smiling and that employers could make their staff happier by giving them more control.
He said: “The evidence is quite compelling that being at work is good for happiness and is also good for health.
“There are straightforward issues that help people enjoy their work. The biggest one of all is that people have a measure of control over what they do, how they do it and when they do it.
“People may still feel that work is bad for them, but in fact, they have a network of colleagues there, they feel valued and they are doing something worthwhile.
“There is a positive link between the feeling of happiness and level of health, so being out of work is very dangerous. If you look at the suicide rate of young adult males, it is 40 times greater for those out of work than those who have a job - that is a figure we can’t neglect.
“Even if we look at the whole spectrum, people out of work are six times more likely to commit suicide than those in work.
“Those who are out of work for a short time are at risk, but for people out of work for more than six months, the theoretical health risks equate to smoking 20 packets of cigarettes a day - that’s 400 cigarettes.
“We also know about increased risks of coronary heart disease, diabetes and cancer for the unemployed.
“Sometimes the risks of being out of work can be more dangerous than working on North Sea oil platforms or being a safari guide.”
But pushing for promotion might not be the best route to happiness, with a limit on how much happiness money can buy.
Prof Aylward added: “Studies also show that there is a certain wage threshold above which you do not get any happier. The American study found people who earned more than $16,000 (£8,500) did not become happier the more they earned, while below that level each pound extra made people happier.
“Millionaires are not much happier than those on lower wages.”
The professor, speaking ahead of a Happiness and Wellbeing conference in London tomorrow (Thu), said our ability to be happy was genetic, with a built-in happiness level, which was difficult to cross for any length of time.
But lack of work or family trouble could easily see us fall below the threshold and slip into depression.
Recent research has revealed happiness makes a certain area of our brain buzz with activity and ‘light up’ on an MRI scanner.
Prof Aylward said it could lead to genetic treatment of depression in the future.
He added: “In general, happiness activity is confined to a particular part of the brain in all people. In some people where their attitude to life is more negative the other side of the brain shows activity.
“It shows there is a major genetic component to happiness - we do not move away from our inbuilt level of happiness. Some people sit trying to be happier, but it has been said it is like trying to be taller.
“People who have won the lottery and people who have had serious accidents, that leave them paraplegic for example, do have very different levels of happiness immediately afterwards, but after several months, their levels of happiness return to a similar level as those before the event.
“Everybody has a set point of happiness, and we are not going to exceed that for a long period of time. However, you can make sure you are not going to go below that level, by having strong links with your family, working and having spiritual values.
“Chronic depression is a very serious illness and in the future it could be possible to look at DNA and see which pattern is responsible for depression.
“At the moment doctors should be aware of the dangers of unemployment and trying to get people back to work.”
Prof Aylward added that limiting our happiness could be evolution’s way of protecting us from danger. He continued: “If you look at stone age man, it pays to be less happy and more cautious, to not impulsively eat fruit from trees that could be poisonous or just head into caves that could be dangerous.”