Brianna Ta: Happiness is….
Nick: Being content with life and loving those around you.
Marianne: A feeling that makes getting out of bed all worth the while.
Wyatt: The absence of negativity, pain, and stress.
Ta: As you can see, happiness is subjective. At this point in my life, I’m still not sure what it means. All I know is, we need more of it.
But what truly affects our happiness? Hi, I’m Brianna Ta and I sought to answer this question by researching happiness in college students.
Some of you might be asking, but why is research on happiness important and how does this apply to me?
Dr. Francoise Adan, director of the Integrative Health Network of hospitals in Cleveland, says that “Being happy doesn’t just make us feel better, it improves our health. It helps us eat healthier, be more active and sleep better.
Marianne: Through understanding what makes us happy, we can build healthier habits and lead higher quality lives.
Ta: Scientists found that happiness doesn’t only lead to healthier habits but can even improve your physical health as well. For example, a 2005 study done by the University College in London found that happiness predicts lower heart rate and blood pressure, which are indicators of your heart’s health. Happiness can also lead to longer lives, a stronger immune system, and lower stress levels.
Now that we have some background about all of the benefits of happiness, let’s take a look at what previous studies say.
Azadeh et al. studied how nutrition impacts the happiness of college students attending Qazvin University of Medical Sciences in Iran. They found that eating breakfast, greater number of daily meals, and increased fruit and vegetable consumption correlated with higher levels of happiness.
I guess your parents always telling you to eat your vegetables actually has some scientific backing. I dislike most vegetables, but I guess I’ll have to give brussel sprouts another shot.
Although I don’t like eating my vegetables, I love exercising! Fortunately, Javed et al. found that exercising, taking morning or evening walks, and going to the gym had a significant positive association with happiness.
I would totally take walks outside to boost my mood, but all of this pollen has gotten my allergies acting up.
Now that we’ve explored how physical factors affect happiness, let’s delve into how social factors influence a person’s happiness.
For over 80 years, Harvard conducted an observational study on over 250 participants and their descendants and found that satisfaction with relationships was the most important factor for predicting a person’s happiness.
In contrast, Raymo studied the effects of isolation on one-person households in Japan. He found that isolation negatively impacted emotional well-being.
As you can see, there have been plenty of studies looking at how physical and social factors impact happiness, but there is a lack of significant studies investigating how social and academic factors impact happiness in college students specifically. I sought to perform research in that area by distributing and analyzing a survey among UNC students.
Overall, I collected 72 responses and performed 3 types of statistical tests for a total of 11 tests performed on my data.
Now some of you might be wondering, but why did you choose a survey instead of an observational study like Harvard?
Well, I’m glad you asked.
I chose a survey so that I could easily collect a large number of responses from a variety of students and make conclusions about general trends found in the UNC student body. I created my survey on Qualtrics, a powerful analytical software, and distributed it via social media (such as Patio, Facebook, Instagram, and GroupMe). After I finished collecting enough responses, I analyzed my data on Excel using ANOVA, two-sample t, and linear regression tests.
First, here’s some background on what these tests mean and why I performed them. An Analysis of Variance (or ANOVA) test determines whether there is a significant difference between the means of three or more groups. Similarly, a 2-sample t-test determines whether there is a significant difference between the means of two groups. Lastly, a linear regression test determines whether there is a significant relationship between two variables, essentially telling me whether one variable can predict the other.
After analyzing my survey data, I investigated whether happiness level depended on demographics, specifically gender, ethnicity, and race. After looking at bar graphs of my data points, I saw that males typically had a higher happiness level than females and non-Hispanic respondents had a higher happiness level than Hispanic respondents.
I performed the statistical tests to investigate whether these differences were statistically significant and found that they were not, although the differences of happiness level based on gender was close to being significant.
In my survey, I had my participants rank five factors from most to least positively influencing their happiness. These five factors included social interaction (with family and non-family members), sleep, exercise, and classes/classwork. The average rankings of these five factors varied widely by group and I found that they were significantly different, after performing an ANOVA test. I concluded that non-family social interaction had the most positive influence, whereas classes and classwork had the least.
Next, I asked respondents to rank their closeness with friends and family from 1 to 10. I also asked how many extracurriculars or clubs they were involved in. All three of these social factors seemed to be positively associated with happiness level.
After performing linear regression tests, I found that the closeness of the respondent’s relationship with friends was a significant variable. Over 25 percent of an individual’s happiness level can be accounted for by the closeness of the respondent’s relationship with their friends.
Next, I asked respondents to reply with their current credit hours and which school or category best fit their major. The categories were the following: humanities and social sciences, health, STEM, and business (all groups that were based on the various schools at UNC). After graphing my data, there didn’t seem to be a pattern or association between these factors and a student’s happiness level.
The statistical tests confirmed this, contradicting my hypothesis. I thought that greater credit hours would correlate with a lower level of happiness due to the increased stress and academic load associated with more credit hours. A possible explanation could be that students have various levels of extracurricular commitment and only take as many credits as they can handle.
Some other factors I investigated were stress level, hours of sleep, and amount of free time. Based on the scatter plots, I estimated that stress has a negative relationship with happiness, sleep has a positive relationship with happiness, and amount of free time looks inconclusive.
After performing the statistical tests, I was able to confirm my suspicions.
Unsurprisingly, my main findings were that stress has a negative relationship with happiness. More hours of sleep and closer relationships with your friends are correlated with a higher happiness level. Social interaction with non-family members had the most positive influence on a student’s happiness, while classes and classwork had the least. All of my findings confirmed my hypotheses except that I expected to find a significant negative relationship between credit hours and happiness level.
In conclusion, I found that social interaction and physical health (especially nutrition and sleep) are very important to a person’s happiness. Additionally, my survey demonstrated evidence that stress negatively impacts your happiness and health.
Although I did receive some significant results, I note that my sampling method was biased and my sample size was small compared to UNC’s student body. Although my sample was large enough to draw some valid conclusions, I hope to gather more responses to decrease random and sampling errors so that my results can be more accurate. Additionally, asking students to rate their happiness level opens up my survey to response bias since participants could respond inaccurately. Unfortunately, I did not find a better way to evaluate happiness without a much longer survey or expensive machinery, but I note this limitation in my study. Perhaps, in future research, I could measure the dopamine levels in the brain using carbon electrodes for more accurate happiness data. Lastly, the relationships between variables might not follow a linear trend so a linear regression test wouldn’t find a significant relationship. In future research, I’d like to perform quadratic, or even cubic or logarithmic, regression tests to see if there is a nonlinear significant relationship between my variables.
For more future research topics, I could include other universities and colleges in my sample and see if the factors affecting the happiness of students vary by college or location. I suspect that students at more rigorous universities or colleges with worse weather will have lower average happiness levels. Additionally, researching ways to lower the stress level of college students is important to maintaining a healthy and positive student body.
My research is significant because it can help pinpoint how we can improve the overall happiness of UNC students, and these same conclusions can be extended to the general population. It’s extremely important to find out what impacts our happiness so we can use those results to help us stay mentally and physically healthy. My podcast enables students and people alike to better understand what affects their happiness and what they can do to improve their mental well-being. Try to apply these findings to your everyday life by getting enough sleep, interacting with your friends and family, and making sure you’re eating nutritious meals.
Thanks for listening and I hope my findings lead you to happiness!
Azadeh, L., Asghar, M., Maryam, J., Modaresi, E. J., & Fakhari, A. (2016). Eating Breakfast, Fruit and Vegetable Intake and Their Relation with Happiness in College Students. Eating and Weight Disorders, 21(4), 645-651. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s40519-016-0261-0
Javed, H., Arshad, D., Dhillon, A., Rishi, A., Zaidi, S., & Kashif, M. (2019). Factors Affecting Happiness Among Students of Rawalpindi Medical University: A Cross-Sectional Study. Journal of Rawalpindi Medical College, 23(2).
Raymo, J. M. (2015). Living alone in japan: Relationships with happiness and health. Demographic Research, 32, 1265-1298. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.4054/DemRes.2015.32.46
Steptoe, A., & Wardle, J. (2005). Positive Affect and Biological Function in Everyday Life. Neurobiology of Aging, 26(1), 108–112. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2005.08.016
Vaillant, G., McArthur, C., & Bock, A. (2022). Grant Study of Adult Development, 1938-2000. Harvard Dataverse. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/48WRX9