Age and Happiness


Happiness Index Analysis Consumption and Happiness Professor Isaac Group F (Joseph Maisterra, Matt Heffel, Matt Lipsen, Shavon Cullinane)

What does age tell us about happiness? This is a question that stood out from the Happiness Index Survey. Based on the data presented, four topics that were distinctive to us were: “Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday?,” “Overall, to what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile?,” “In a typical week how much of your time are you able to spend doing the things you enjoy?,” and “I am optimistic about my future.” The data was sorted into three initial groups: the SU Consumption and Happiness class, Other SU surveyed participants, and the UW data science students. This sorting gave us a basis for what we felt would be a pertinent fourth group to analyze. For our fourth demographic, older adults (ages 60 and up) were analyzed to provide a contrasting set of data against students whose average age fell within the 18 - 24 range. As follows is our breakdown of stand-out data that our comparative analysis of these groups brought forward. Within the responses to the question: “Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday?” there was a distinct difference in responses between the students within the Consumption and Happiness classes at Seattle University and other respondents. The question, which fell under the Satisfaction with Life and Affect (feelings) section of the Happiness Index Survey, measured individuals’ responses to the question with an interval scale from 1 - 11, with 1 representing Not at All Happy the day prior and 11 representing Completely Happy the day prior. Respondents from the Elderly demographic group had an average response of 7.4091, similar to that of respondents from University of Washington’s Data Science students, who had an average of 7.0926 and general students at Seattle University who had an average rating of 7.5641. In contrast, students currently enrolled in this course, Consumption and Happiness, at Seattle University, answered with an average of 8.50000. Interestingly this discrepancy is reflected in the range of responses--the high and lows of each population responses--in addition to the averages. Responses from the Elderly, UW Data Science, and Seattle University populations ranged from the highest rating of 11 (Completely Happy) to the lowest rating of 1 (Not at All Happy). However, students in the Consumption and Happiness course at Seattle University had a range from the highest rating of 11 as well but had a low of only 5. No respondents within this population identified their happiness of the day prior being below 5. The disparity between this population, the students at Seattle University in Consumption and Happiness, and the rest may be an issue of injunctive norms. Students within the Consumption and Happiness course have a greater focus on concepts surrounding happiness and understanding of perceptions of what answers within this survey may be approved or disapproved of. With course work and seminars that focus on an understanding of happiness intrinsically, students enrolled in that course could get a sense of needing to act a certain way in regard to what they believe is the right way that they should act; in this case positively reflecting on their happiness levels. Another explanation may just be that students who have taken a course that focuses on understanding complex concepts around happiness simply become happier. Students within this course took this survey after over a month of course topics that focused on intentional understanding of emotional understanding and personal reflection. During this time, enough happiness could have possibly been cultivated to increase their happiness above their peers not taking the course. Another aspect that is often thought to bring people happiness is the gain of satisfaction from their actions. In this sense, people want their lives to be meaningful, whatever that means to them. Later in the survey, respondents were also asked, “Overall, to what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile?” The question focused on covering social wellbeing and affect observing the survey participants perception of what extent they believe their day to day experiences are worthwhile and meaningful. To measure this subjective standard, central tendency was used to measure mean, median, mode and standard deviation of the four groups observed. To understand these results a frequency table was also made for the responses on a scale of 1-11(1 meaning not at all and 11 meaning completely). The results showed the SU population not in the C&H class had the highest mean score among the four groups at 7.81 and the lowest standard deviation of plus or minus 1.75 units. Does this mean that SU students lead the most meaningful lives among the four groups of interest? Possibly, however; when analyzing the UW population metrics differences in sample size were noticed. The discrepancies among the groups of interest were not limited to the observations above but also testing a difference in age among the primary groups. Those who filled out the survey and were 60 or older represented 6% of the population (188/2821) but on average believed they lead more meaningful lives than the rest of the respondents. Older participants have had more time to find activities they find enjoyable or meaningful. Contributing to prosocial causes, spending money on existing relationships with a strong social connection, and investing in experiences rather than material purchases are all potential contributors in the gap between age groups and their respective scores. The distribution of participants who scored 7 or above on the scale were as follows: 75%, 73%, 51% & 63% (SU1, SU2, UW, UW 60+). The results indicate SU students scored drastically higher than UW respondents. This is most likely due to the response rates where UW students answered 3 or below 15% of the time compared to 0 or 1% for other groups. Many participants could have ignored the question or filled in the first bubble they saw when completing the survey. The results indicate that older people have had more time and exposure to things they find meaningful or have significant others such as a spouse, children or grandchildren they can create experiences with giving them more to appreciate and give back to. In considering the factors that make people happy, people often bring up free time. This can mean time spent relaxing or time doing things you are passionate about. It seems that doing things one enjoys may increase short-term and long-term happiness. The Happiness Index Survey asked participants, “In a typical week how much of your time are you able to spend doing the things you enjoy?” The Seattle U Consumption and Happiness students stated that they spent an average of 49.2% on things they enjoyed, for Seattle U people surveyed who weren’t in the C&H class, the results were an average of 45.5%, University of Washington Students presented an average of 50.9%, and the age 60+ presented an average of 59.9%. The scale that breaks down these numbers regarding percentage makes the most sense while interpreting this data. On a 0-100% scale most of the participants through all the different categories averaged 51.3% this basically means that in a typical week 51.3% of the time people do things they enjoy. The scale starting from 0 and going all the way to 100 is the most useful because “none of the time” is a quantitative value being zero. Doing the things you enjoy throughout the week is very important because it provides a break from the hardships of life which allows you to do activities that are enjoyed. We surveyed a few SU students at random and asked what they do in their free time that they enjoy. The responses were: Netflix, sleeping, meditation, and exercise, these responses give students the opportunity to relax from all the school work and enjoy what students like to do in order to wind down. In another example, students drown themselves in school work and don't take breaks to do the things students enjoy will struggle to find rhythm and flow. Whether it be taking a break while being overwhelmed to nap, watch Netflix, exercise, or make coffee. All these breaks provide a sense of relaxation to help students be as productive as they need to be. Though there may be more free time in the future, the future can be an ominous topic for many. The thought of not knowing what is to come may ignite people’s need for control in aspects of their life. To a certain extent we have control over our future, but there are many aspects that may be out of our control. For instance, the way others react to things. Releasing the need for control over each situation in one’s life, as Raj Raghunathan discusses in “If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?” can make us happier because it allows us to not be as upset by external circumstances not turning out the way we desire. Surprisingly, based on the Happiness Index Survey, participants seemed to be optimistic about the future. When relating their own perspective to the statement: “I am optimistic about my future,” the participants could either choose: Strongly disagree (1), Disagree (2), Neither agree nor disagree (3), Agree (4), or Strongly Agree (5). The average answer was 4.075. This can lead us to reasonably assume that people in the surveyed population are optimistic about their future. However, it was interesting to find the difference between the groups that were surveyed. Though every group had an average positive score, the lowest average response came from the 60+ group we sorted through the data. This group responded on average 3.3125, which is just slightly above averaging “Neither Agree nor Disagree.” The SU group that wasn’t in the class ranked themselves at 4.129. The UW data science students were close behind with 4.0185. The SU C&H class ranked themselves as 3.94. All of this data is pretty close together so it’s difficult to ascertain any significant differences between these groups. What stands out the most is that the biggest difference point in the data discussed above is how optimistic (or not) those over 60 are about their future. This may be because of their longer life experience, but it may also be the need for control. While younger people may feel more optimistic because they have more time to let things roll off their backs, older people may feel like they need to have control over the lesser amount of time they have left in their lives and may be affected more severely by outside circumstances in their lives (like health scares). The other difference could be since they may just view their lives as shorter in general. Having more time means you may be able to accomplish more of the things you want, while knowing your time is limited may make you feel inhibited.

There are many impacts on the happiness, and perceived happiness, of our lives. The way that we reflect on our happiness in the past, the way we spend our time, and the way that we view our future are all impacted by different facets and settings that affect our happiness. It is apparent that within different groups, including age groups, there may be differences in happiness levels especially in consideration of the different factors that may influence personal happiness. Though the results of this survey are interesting, for the differences between groups to be more statistically significant, they would need to be conducted with equal or near equal sample sizes and repeated. This survey has been useful to gauge the satisfaction of Seattle University and University of Washington students as well as people over 60 regarding personal levels of happiness.

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Last updated December 24, 2018
Created December 24, 2018
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