What better start is there to a Sunday than browsing through the newspapers?

Only one, as far as I'm concerned, which is to disappear into a corner with a strong coffee and a good book.

Not for the first time, however, I discover I am out of step. According to a survey from the London School of Economics (LSE), in which 50,000 people were observed over almost three years via an app which gauges mood, reading is one of the UK's least favourite occupations. Sex and intimacy, unsurprisingly, are in first place. But reading – not, to my mind, merely an enjoyable pastime but a necessity only one notch below breathing – falls so low on the measure of pleasure that it sits in the category called "What makes us least happy".

As I scanned the survey's results I discovered I'd have been a lot happier abandoning the paper and going out hunting, fishing, or drinking. Well, yesterday that might have been true, because reading this was certainly a bad beginning to the day. Though still not as terrible, surely, as standing thigh-high in a freezing river, swigging from a hip flask and luring a hapless fish onto a hook.

Measuring happiness seems to be the latest fad in social science, and it's a profoundly depressing, and probably futile, exercise. It seems that in the West we have so little to worry about, and such a narcissistic fascination with ourselves, that we need constantly to monitor our wellbeing. Presumably those who noted that seeing friends made them happier than spending time with their spouse or partner were already well aware of that fact, but it's a pretty sad indictment of British society all the same.

But not as sad as our loathing of reading. I cannot accept that conclusion, though. It may be true for those who took part in this survey, but I refuse to believe that it holds for the population at large. I know countless people for whom Flaubert's dictum "Read in order to live" is gospel. I suspect that if you're reading this column, you probably fall into that category too.

So could it be that the nation's readers did not take part in the LSE project? It's possible, certainly, given that as a breed readers are often more private than those whose answers have put singing and performing at number six in the happiness list, or who demote being "ill in bed" to the very bottom. No true print addict would do that. So long as we're not in mortal peril, most of us consider a bout of flu a heaven-sent opportunity to breach the Berlin Wall of books on the beside table, or the ziggurat of half-read magazines. Were it not for a vicious virus, I'd never have read The Three Musketeers; but for a spell in hospital, my partner would not have devoured Anthony Powell's 12-part A Dance to the Music of Time.

Beneath all this there's a serious and rather worrying point. Judging by the LSE's findings, most people don't like being alone. They'd rather be chatting, doing sports or playing with children than thinking, reading, or studying.

This fear of solitude may explain the anomaly that, according to this report, going to the library is popular, rated at number three. So either people are simply accompanying their children, or they enjoy the atmosphere of a library or the idea of books, but not the actual act of reading, when they find themselves all alone with the page.

That's where devout readers stand apart. Not only are they unfazed by solitude, they positively crave it. For them, a day without the written word is a day wasted. Because, as readers down the ages have discovered, reading is essential: it shapes minds as well as fills them. I don't like to think how people like us survived in the millennia before writing and print.

And it's a habit that grows. It starts early with the urge to read everything in sight, from ketchup bottles to the toothpaste tube, and moves on in adulthood to a realm bordering addiction.

For me, and millions like me, the idea of a bus journey or a night away from home with nothing to read, is cause for panic. It's not just a source of unhappiness, it's the very definition of misery.