David Burt ’17 and Will Sager ’17, with guidance from Brianna Heggeseth, professor of mathematics, conducted the happiness survey of the College’s students for their Winter Study credit. The survey was sent to all students by email, and was administered through Google Forms. They received 1,085 anonymous responses.
“We wanted to administer the survey because we were interested in seeing what makes Williams students happy or not happy,” Sager said. “We hoped that our results would inform students, and possibly even improve students’ lives by shedding light on aspects of campus life that have important implications for happiness. We thought this was an important area of research to explore because there is a surprising lack of data on what makes college students happy. We thought that such a survey might positively impact the Williams community if it helped students to learn strategies to lead happier lives.”
The survey was based on the Satisfaction With Life Scale (SWLS), which scores satisfaction from one to 35. The survey also asked students to rate their happiness on a scale from one to seven. SWLS refers to satisfaction with life in general, but Sager and Burt modified the survey to focus only on at college. The mean SWLS score was 21.77, while the mean happiness was 5.03.
The most important variable was friendship, as those who rated themselves as having better friendships had greater happiness than those who rated themselves as having worse friendships. Class year also played a role in student happiness. Underclassmen tended to be happier than upperclassmen, by both the SWLS and the seven point scale.
Grade point average was also significant, but more so for males than for females. Males, however, did not have higher GPAs than females. Div. III majors had the highest happiness, followed by Div. II and Div. I majors.
Those in long-term, off-campus relationships were significantly less happy than those with any other relationship status. Students who exercised at least an hour a week were happier than those who did not exercise. Those who participated in at least one extracurricular activity were happier than those who did not participate in extracurricular activities. The social aspect of partying made students happier, while the drinking aspect of partying negatively impacted happiness.
“While many of the survey’s results are relatively intuitive, we hope that students will develop a greater understanding of how to lead happy college lives,” Sager said. “For example, students might improve the quality of their college experience with the knowledge that joining just one extracurricular activity is associated with greater happiness. The survey might also help dispel the notion that students need to drink alcohol in order to have a fulfilling college experience.”
There was no significant relationship between happiness and knowledge of post-graduate plans, number of calls home or number of visits home.
In order to maximize responses, the students did not include questions that might make students feel uncomfortable, so there were no questions regarding issues such as sexual behavior or drug use.