Depending on the level of compliance with social distancing rules, the dark winter of the pandemic may well last beyond the “official’ end of winter (March 20, 2021), which raises an intriguing point about the relationship between wellbeing and the pandemic. It is the following: are happier people more likely to observe COVID lockdown rules?
A recent academic paper used three large-scale surveys to investigate whether happier people were more willing to take heed of government messages, and found a positive correlation between happiness (subjective wellbeing in the jargon of economists) and compliance behaviour. ‘Happier’ people were found to be more likely to adhere to preventative health measures like hands washing, masks wearing and avoiding crowded areas. As for ‘unhappy’ people, the three surveys showed that ‘negative affect’ (emotional distress, measured by how anxious people are) in 2019 was associated with lower regional-level compliance behaviour in 2020. This could help explain the anti-lockdown protests and reluctance bias surrounding vaccination that many Western countries experienced over the past few months. Naturally, and beyond wellbeing, the research also revealed differences related to age and levels of health. For older people and those with pre-existing medical conditions (at higher risk of COVID-19 complications), avoiding risk was a decisive factor when deciding whether to comply with official rules and advice.