When alcohol's discussed inside the framework of public health, it's almost always the negative consequences of imbibing. But in a new study, researchers Ben Baumberg Geiger and George MacKerron are looking into the relationship between alcohol and wellbeing, and proving what we all anecdotally knew: Drinks make people happy, at least for a little while.
Two experiments were conducted: one tracking the relationship between alcohol and long-term happiness, and the other about "moment-to-moment changes in happiness and drinking." The latter was done over a quite large sample -- 2,049,120 observations from 31,302 individuals -- though this wasn't a representative sample.
Unsurprisingly, people are much happier in the moment of drinking. "Drinking alcohol is associated with considerably greater happiness at that moment — 10.79 points on a 0-100 scale," says the study. The collection method attempted to control for the other variables that can cause happiness and tend to be around in the moment of drinking: friends, family, the Stanley Cup Final, and good food.
Controlled for those factors, the happiness boost fell to 4 points, but that remains a statistically significant boost in happiness.
While there weren't significantly different responses based on who people were drinking with, drinking could have a dramatic impact on reported happiness based on what kind of activity it accompanied.
"Drinking had the greatest impact when it came alongside otherwise unenjoyable activities (traveling/commuting, waiting), and only increased the happiness of already enjoyable activities by smaller amounts (socializing, making love)."
So, next time you go to the DMV, brown-bagging it might give a lot of bang for your buck.
Drinkers reported higher satisfaction in the moment of drinking, but any spillover into other moments were "in question... and more inconsistent," and that wasn't just about regrets and hangovers.
Additionally, in the longterm, drinking didn't make people more happy or unhappy, except where drinking problems arose.
Overall, the study didn't reveal anything that wasn't assumed about drinking, but putting that in a scientific framework is important. "The conventional way that government economists (at least in the UK) value the wellbeing impacts of drinking – assuming that we are all rational and fully-informed for every drink – are simply wrong," Geiger told Thrillist.
To seriously address the problems of drinking, the study contends, the complete picture must be understood, including the obvious fact staring everyone in the face: People drink because it's fun.