What the Oxford study got wrong about sex, sleep, and happiness.
Happiness is a complex state of being. You might not get that idea from recent research out of Oxford Economics and the National Centre for Social Research (sponsored by Sainsburys) that pinpoints sex and sleep as the primary indicators of happiness. The media, at least, is focusing on those main takeaways, but there are actually a multi-layered set of human conditions that, when optimized, imbue happiness. These conditions include education, career, forgiveness, health, humility, intelligence, personality, religion, self-esteem, and socialization. We call these the Ten Key Happiness Indicators.
Achievements, attributes, behaviors, and customs underpin these human conditions. They create a framework for life‘s purpose, balance, and stability. They establish an additional layer of complexity to represent better the phenomenon of human existence. Many complex factors underpin health, well-being, and happiness. To reduce it to sex and sleep does not capture the breadth of that reality.
Of course, it is obvious that sex and sleep contribute to physical well-being, and happiness —temporarily, but they are not primary factors in the well-being and happiness equation. For instance, to have ‘good sex’ that is fulfilling you need to have good communication, compatibility, and desire. One might argue, that impulsive sex is the apex of great sex. The Oxford study does not present such findings or similar criteria for ‘great sex.’
Some researchers indicate that sex, communications, money, and abuse are (interchangeably) the leading causes of divorce. Undeniably, sexual fulfillment can only flourish in an atmosphere nourished by trust, loyalty (fidelity), emotional gratification, and psychologically underpinned by the mutual love for each other – not just natural love, but agapé love.
Our postmodern, western culture of sex without love, infidelity, convenient marriages, and oversexualization contributes to the divorce rate and diminishes the value of an essential bond between partners. Does it mean that people who cheat are in search of happiness? The wandering partner may be unhappy for a host of reasons including the desire to pursue someone that seems more pleasurable — the pursuit of pleasure.
The study also does not take into consideration the complex ways that couples engage sexually with each other such as age differentiated, arranged marriages, or bi-racial marriages. There is no standard model for couples. The study sample of 8,000 Brits is too minuscule, and the assumptions are too weak to be useful to a broad audience in our complex and culturally diverse society.
Each relationship is distinctly differentiated, and underpinned by a myriad of other complicated circumstances that make the sexual experience either fulfilling or unfulfilling, beyond the perimeter of emotional gratification and happiness. Moreover, people can argue that sex, consummated between a loving and committed couple that understands the purpose of sex beyond pleasure will achieve a higher plateau of sex and happiness.
According to the Healthy Women and Palatin Technologies survey, which included 906 premenopausal women, 46% experienced low sexual desire. Of these, about six in 10 were distressed about their dulled cravings for sex. Why such distress? The survey found that 85% of women ages 30 to 50 think low sexual desire hurts the level of intimacy in their romantic relationships. Of these women, 66% believe low sexual desire negatively affects their communication with their partners.
On the other hand, for sex to be a primary factor in people’s happiness, the study should demonstrate that a great sex life is a precursor to other factors requisite for happiness. Sex does not necessarily correlate with the core happiness indicators such as education, career, forgiveness, health, humility, intelligence, personality, religion, self-esteem or socialization. The study relegates sex between two individuals as pivotal to happiness, excluding the fact that people’s happiness has more to do with love, loyalty, fidelity, commitment, contentment, and mutual attraction.
The benefits of sleep are as intuitive as the benefits of eating or bathing, but does a restful night sleep equate to blissful happiness? Individuals who get consistent, restful sleep can testify to its benefits. No one can deny that a good night’s sleep can lead to a productive day, better mood, alertness, learning, and even lower the risk of accidents.
Although sleep engages people for approximately one-third of their lives and some people may get adequate sleep, to infer by any definition that happiness will rise to an apex, is to deny the myriad of mitigating circumstances that underpin happiness. We have identified a variety of things that contribute to happiness, such as loyal relationships, health (spiritual, mental, and physical), travel, education, and a fulfilling career. Having enough money to live a comfortable life also contributes to an individual’s ability to look beyond survival and seek joy and fulfillment.
Sleep enables people to have the awareness and vitality to achieve their happiness goals, but like sex, sleep does not occur in the absence of key contributing factors such as contentment and peace of mind. Factors such as stress, age, health, occupation, genetics, or biological clock affect restful sleep. Sleep and sex are not the principal factors in happiness because they require pre-cursors.
Effectively, sex and sleep are symptoms of a more profound underlying balance in peoples’ lives; without such a balance, sex and sleep could just as easily contribute to unhappiness.
Errol A. and Marjorie G. Gibbs are avid readers, self-inspired researchers, and writers. They are the creators of the Optimum Happiness Index. Marjorie holds a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA), a Business Accounting and Assistant Diploma (BAA), and certificates in Conflict Management and Environment Technology. Errol has a polytechnic engineering background, primarily in the energy industry. Errol relinquished his technical career to pursue a higher understanding of human development from religious, humanitarian, and philosophical perspectives and to write and speak on issues that impede human growth, happiness, and peaceful coexistence. Errol has presented at conferences hosted by diverse organizations such as the Project Management Institute (PMI)® and the Women’s Federation for World Peace (WFWP).