UC researching happiness, pleasure and engagement


UC postgraduate psychology researcher Carsten Grimm

12 November 2012

Sex or making love and drinking alcohol or partying are two of the most enjoyable activities, according to a University of Canterbury research project.

UC postgraduate psychology researcher Carsten Grimm said drinking alcohol or partying ranked second behind sex or making love in terms of happiness and pleasure but ranked 10th in terms of meaning.

Washing, dressing and grooming ranked last in terms of engagement while feeling sick was lowest rated in terms of happiness and pleasure.

Surprisingly Facebook rated last in meaning while texting came in 26th in happiness. Carsten's research has revealed the complex relationship between happiness and well-being in people’s daily lives.

The recent boom in happiness research has seen everyone from academics to governments become interested in ways to measure and track happiness, Carsten said.

Well-being was finding its way into policy decision-making alongside traditional economic indicators like GDP. But how good was society’s understanding of what made for a good life and how to increase well-being? Carsten will present his research on November 14 as part of the UC’s showcase lecture series.

"Treasury is now including well-being measures - life satisfaction - in its higher living standards framework, so governments are into this well-being stuff.

"I am currently researching how to add to that understanding. So far governments around the world and media have focused mainly on life satisfaction in the discussion about well-being; it turns out happiness is a far more complicated topic.

"One of the areas I’m researching - orientations to happiness – looks at whether there are different ways of going about seeking happiness. Psychologists have proposed that individuals may seek to increase their well-being through three main behavioural orientations; via pleasure, via engagement, and via meaning.

"Endorsing pleasure as a way to happiness means you enjoy `eating dessert first’ or you focus on feeling good and enjoying sensory pleasures. Engagement is what you experience when you’re totally absorbed in what you’re doing; either skiing down a hill or being immersed in your work. People call this experience a state of `flow’ and this may be a dominant orientation to happiness for some people.’’

Having meaning in a person’s life was a way to pursue happiness; being part of something bigger and contributing to the greater good.

Carsten used mobile-phone text-messaging to collect data on what people did during the day and how they felt about it, a technique called “experience sampling”.

Using mobile-phones to sample what people do provided information on well-being in people's everyday lives which was richer than traditional surveys.

"I texted people three times a day over a week and the response rate was really high. People are never far from their cellphones these days. People replied to on average 97 percent of all text-messages, and texts were sent at random times, so there is a really rich sample of everyday life to look at.

"From my research I can see what activities are routinely rated as highest and lowest in people's daily lives. Having sex is (no surprise) highest on all measures of happiness. Being sick is again, no surprise, relatively low on all  measures. Going to lectures, or studying, is low on pleasure and happiness, but ranks relatively high on meaning (7th out of 30 behaviour categories).

"The results have implications for what psychologists have called `the full life’. Those who tend to be high on all three orientations to happiness not only score high on life satisfaction, they also tend to have higher experiences of pleasure, meaning, engagement and happiness in their daily lives.

"This means that being able to seek happiness in different ways may enrich your everyday experience and increase your overall well-being.

"This is a fascinating area of study and one I am really excited to be a part of. Hopefully as we learn more about what contributes to a full life we can help people increase their happiness in their daily lives. It’s been cool to study at UC for sure.’’

 Carsten's research at UC has been supervised by Professor Simon Kemp.

Average Momentary Ratings of Daily Behaviours

Top-ranked:Behaviour

Pleasure

Meaning

Engagement

Happiness

Sex/ making love

1st

1st

1st

1st

Drinking alcohol/ partying

2nd

10th

5th

2nd

Care-giving/ volunteering

9th

3rd

6th

3rd

Meditating/ religious activities

8th

2nd

7th

4th

Childcare/ playing with children

10th

4th

11th

5th

Listening to music/ podcast

3rd

17th

13th

6th

Socialising/ talking/ chatting

5th

11th

10th

7th

Hobbies/ arts/ crafts

4th

5th

4th

8th

Shopping/ errands

15th

16th

16th

9th

Gaming/ video-games

6th

24th

9th

10th

 Lower-ranked

 

 

 

 

Washing/ dressing/ grooming

22nd

29th

30th

21st

Internet/  on computer

20th

28th

21st

22nd

Commuting/ travelling

27th

23rd

29th

23rd

Paid work

26th

15th

17th

24th

Lectures/ class/ lab

23rd

8th

15th

25th

Texting/ emailing

21st

18th

18th

26th

Studying/ working on education

28th

7th

14th

27th

Housework/ chores/ DIY

29th

27th

27th

28th

Facebook

24th

30th

28th

29th

Sick/ healthcare

30th

25th

25th

30th


Note.
Behaviours ranked from highest to lowest on happiness. There were 30 behaviour categories in all; the highest and lowest 10 behaviours on happiness are shown.

For more information please contact:
Kip Brook
Media Consultant
Communications and External Relations
University of Canterbury
Ph: (03) 364 3325
Mobile: 027 5030 168
kip.brook@canterbury.ac.nz