Inspired by the theme for the 2013 Faith, Reason and World Affairs Symposium, a group of researchers set to find out how happy the Concordia community is and why.
Dr. Darcie Sell, assistant professor of psychology, led the team and encouraged members to tighten their focus.
“Doing research on happiness is pretty broad,” Sell says. “We thought, ‘how can we narrow that down?’”
Sell and two of her students, Alexandra Benson ‘14, Hurley, S.D., and Maureen Wieland ‘14, Lake Lillian, Minn., dove into past research on happiness, trying to find measurements that would apply to Concordia’s students, faculty and staff.
“We tried to pinpoint things that we thought would be important at Concordia,” Benson says.
The team decided to investigate the degree to which a sense of community and spirituality predicted overall happiness. Their prediction was that having strong senses of both would be a good predictor of happiness.
The team also asked responders to describe their most satisfying event of the past month. Responders were then asked to answer a series of questions about that event. Their hope was to figure out which human needs were met because of that experience. Online surveys were sent to the Concordia community in April. Within a few weeks, the team had received more than 200 responses. The responses were compiled during the summer and analyzed in August.
“It was really interesting to finally put it all together,” Wieland says.
The Happy Results
Think of happiness on a number scale, where 16 is the neutral middle. Higher numbers mean more happiness and lower numbers mean less happiness. The responses to this survey averaged to 22, significantly tipping the scales to the happy side. In fact, 67 percent of respondents reported that they are happier than their peers.
Among student responses, both spirituality and a sense of community were significant predictors of happiness. If a student feels connected to the Concordia community, and if the student is spiritual, the study showed that person was probably happy.
Among employee responses, a sense of community was a significant predictor of happiness, but spirituality was insignificant. Sell, Benson and Wieland were surprised by that at first. But further analysis and consideration led the team to believe that the different life stages experienced by the two groups may play a role.
“During college, you’re trying to establish your identity,” Benson says. “For many of the students who are attracted to Concordia, that might come through their faith.”
Employees, she says, are older and may have already established themselves and their identities. While faith may still be important, it doesn’t necessarily predict their happiness.
In the other part of the study, the researchers found that responders’ most satisfying event evoked the feelings of autonomy, relatedness, self-esteem and competence significantly more often than other needs. This led them to conclude that those four needs appear to be more important than the others in influencing our well-being.
Benson and Wieland led a concurrent session during the fall symposium to present their research and conclusions. Sell also presented the conclusions during a president’s seminar in September for students and employees.
“It was cool to have done some research and then be able to share the results with people,” Wieland says. “It feels pretty good to have the president [of the college] ask you for your research.”
While there are no plans to repeat the research, Sell would like to look at some different variables next time, building off of the results that had been found.
The students also think it might be interesting to compare the results from the April survey with one conducted at a different time of year, or compared to another college community.
“It definitely invoked a wider discussion than I thought it would,” Benson says.