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Neurotic people—those who are prone to guilt, anger and anxiety—tend to be unhappy.

This is more than a tautological observation about people's mood when asked about their feelings by pollsters or economists.

There are already a lot of data on the subject collected by, for instance, America's General Social Survey, Eurobarometer and Gallup. One concerns people's assessment of their lives, and the other how they feel at any particular time.

The first goes along the lines of: thinking about your life as a whole, how do you feel?

Whereas neuroticism tends to make for gloomy types, extroversion does the opposite.

Those who like working in teams and who relish parties tend to be happier than those who shut their office doors in the daytime and hole up at home in the evenings.

They pointed out that Mr Townshend, having passed his 60th birthday, was writing a blog that glowed with good humour.

Conventional economics uses money as a proxy for utility—the dismal way in which the discipline talks about happiness.

But some economists, unconvinced that there is a direct relationship between money and well-being, have decided to go to the nub of the matter and measure happiness itself.

They do not always elicit the same response: having children, for instance, tends to make people feel better about their life as a whole, but also increases the chance that they felt angry or anxious yesterday.

Statisticians trawl through the vast quantities of data these surveys produce rather as miners panning for gold.

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