Social Support and Happiness


Nadia Balin Vy Chau Tinghe Chu Cici Pham

Research was conducted to test for happiness levels among 3 groups: students from our marketing class, Seattle University students, and University of Washington students. However, it is important to note that when UW distributed the survey, they made it open to everyone, not just students from the university. Social support was measured by asking participants to answer/rate the following 4 questions/statements: (1) How satisfied are you with your personal relationships? (2) People in my life care about me (3) I feel loved (4) I feel lonely. Based on the data that was gathered, we can determine that SU students have the highest score on three of the four sectors: feeling loved, feeling cared about, and satisfaction with personal relationships. Conversely, they achieve the lowest average score on feeling lonely, compared to the other groups we studied. Surprisingly, we found that people under 12 years old, whose data was gathered through the distribution of the survey from UW, received the lowest score on how satisfied they are with their personal relationships, how much people care about them, and how much they feel loved. Although they got an average above 4 in how much they feel cared about, it is still the lowest score among the different groups. Additionally, the under 12 year-old group of children have the highest average score (3.39) on how lonely they felt. Before these results were conducted, we assumed that the youngest group would be the happiest. According to the article “The U Bend of Life” (The Economist), we believe that we’re happy when we’re young, and are more depressed as we near middle age (hence mid-life crisis), and go back to our happiest level as we pass middle age and reach old age. Our findings above suggest that under 12 year-old children nowadays are feeling less social support than before.

Explanations: Why children under 12 are having less social support?

From what we studied in class, the lack of a sense of control may have a positive correlation with children receiving less social support. People feel a higher sense of freedom when they have control over their decisions, as well as higher happiness levels. In an experiment studying the need for control with rats, one group of rats were given coke whenever they pushed a lever, group 2 rats are given coke according to schedule of group 1, and the last group received no coke. As a result, rats who had control had a lower mortality rate, while rats who had no control had a higher mortality rate. In another experiment about need for control, but on humans, one group have freedom to choose either they want to see a movie or choose a plant, the other group have no choice of plant or movie. The result shows that people who had control over decisions are happier than people who had no control over decisions. Both experiments show that control over decisions affect psychological and physical health. Parents often have a high control over their children, and get them involved in many activities from piano lessons to sports. Children under the age of 12 typically have limited choices to choose what they want. Research shows that parents who exert too much control over their children could be causing a long-term psychological damage. Depression and anxiety can result when parents control over, and it would lead children feel lonely and unhappiness.

Outside of the box:

One possible reason as to why children under the age of 12 are feeling the lowest amount of social support could be due to the strong desire to be liked, as well as the effects of technology and social media. Children who use technology face the risk of being the targets of cyberbullying, whether by peers or by strangers. This can be a direct cause for feelings of anxiety and depression in today’s youth. According to, “1 in 3 kids say they’ve been cyberbullied”, and “40% of kids say their cyberbullying took place on instant messenger services, 30% said it happened on social networking sites, and 29% said they were bullied while playing an online game”. It is also important to note that “cyberbullying is especially prevalent in middle school-aged kids (9-14)” (, which can reflect the children aged 12 or younger in our study. Despite having loving and supporting parents, many children do not tell anyone about this as they may feel guilt, shame, embarrassment, and/or may simply not want to lose their rights to using their technological devices or specific sites and apps; internalizing this can lead to feelings of isolation. According to the Common Sense national survey of parents, the percentage of children ages 0-8 with each device is as follows: smartphone (in the home) is 95%, tablet (in the home) is 78%, and their own tablet is an outstanding 42% ( Although technology can be used as a form of communication, the increased usage of technology in children today is leading to lower levels of face-to-face interactions and communication with peers, siblings, and parents. This is hindering the development of personal relationships, as well as in-person communication skills. This lack of personal relationships can increase feelings of feeling lonely, while decreasing feelings of feeling loved and cared about. Lastly, the desire to be well-liked and gain social approval from peers can be a large contributor to unhappiness among children of this age. Being rejected by peers, lacking friends, and lacking social skills are all causes of low self-esteem in children. According to, “Kindergarten children who are victimized by peers (e.g., picked on, or physically or verbally attacked or taunted) report higher levels of loneliness, distress, and negative attitudes toward school than non victimized children” (Kochenderfer & Ladd, 1996). Elementary school and middle school are when children begin to develop cliques, resulting in making many children feel left. Many relationships at this age are not meaningful at their core, and most children have experienced a friend who has suddenly become mean or has ditched them or replaced them out of the blue. This often causes confusion to the victim, leaving them with a feeling of loneliness or simply “not being good enough”.

Test Proposal:

To test the impact of these two possible reasons for our observation that children under 12 years old report lower levels of happiness/satisfaction with life, we would conduct a week-long study with a sample size of 50 subjects. They would be within the age range of 9-12, a domain which is likely to have access to social media (under nine years old is unlikely). For one week, this group will either have access to social media or not. Before beginning the experiment, each child would take an initial happiness survey measuring their general satisfaction with life. Then, half of the sample will be given the choice of which condition they will carry out the study in. The other 25 subjects will be assigned to whether or not they may use any social media for the week. The experiment concludes with another happiness survey to measure a change, if any, in happiness levels. In total, four different groups are formed: (1) subjects who chose to use social media, (2) subjects who chose to abstain from social media, (3) subjects assigned to use social media, and (4) subjects assigned to abstain from social media. Groups (1) and (2) have the highest autonomy while groups (2) and (4) have the least exposure to social media. The recorded change in happiness levels can most easily be viewed and interpreted in the form of a double bar graph. The data may show which condition affects happiness more, and might also show how these two factors interact with each other. [See Appendix E.]

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Last updated December 24, 2018
Created December 24, 2018
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