Author: Michael Cunningham
An online survey containing The Satisfaction With Life Scale and The Social Activity Measure was carried out among 291 university students to determine if there was a correlation between social activity and subjective well-being. The findings indicated that there was a weak positive correlation between social activity and subjective well-being. The second hypothesis that satisfaction with social activity would be more strongly correlated with well-being compared to frequency of social activity, was supported by the results. The evidence also suggested that satisfaction and frequency of social activity with groups was more strongly correlated with well-being than satisfaction and frequency of social activity with friends, parents or relatives, supporting the final hypothesis.
In the past, psychologists have focused their research on understanding and treating mental illnesses, representing studies on negative emotions. Recently, psychologists shifted focus to research positive emotions such as happiness, due in part to the emergence of positive psychology in 1998 founded by Martin Seligman. Subjective well-being and happiness has been the subject of a growing collection of empirical studies (eg., Tkach & Lyubomirsky, 2006; Csikszentmihalyi & Hunter, 2003; Diener & Seligman, 2002; Pinquart & Sörensen, 2000), a large portion of which have examined the correlation between subjective well-being and social activity, which forms the basis for this lab report. Subjective well-being can be described as one’s judgement of their personal life satisfaction, whilst social activity is defined as any social interaction with others.
This paper is a partial replication of a study designed by Cooper, Okamura and Gurka (1992), who conducted their research on the relationship between well-being and social activity with first year psychology students and their friends. Cooper et al. used The Satisfaction With Life Scale and the Social Activity Measure to gather their results from the subjects. The data collected from Cooper et al’s study revealed that satisfaction with social activity rather than frequency was the strongest predictor of subjective well-being.
Similar results were found in a study where five hundred ethnically diverse undergraduate students reported their happiness-increasing strategies (Tkach & Lyubomirsky 2006). The findings showed that the most frequently used strategy, which also had the strongest positive relation to happiness, was social activity. The subjects had to complete the Subjective Happiness Scale questionnaire to determine the effectiveness of their chosen happiness-increasing strategy, which Tkach & Lyubormirsky stated as providing ‘very similar results’ to the Satisfaction With Life Scale.
Psychological research suggests that people who experience little social activity are less happy than people who are socially active. Csikszentmihalyi & Hunter (2003) conducted a study in which the emotional states of 828 year 6-12 students were examined throughout the day. To detect variations of emotional states over time the Experience Sampling Method was developed, involving an electronic pager that signalled the subjects at random periods during the day. After being signalled the subjects would report their current activity and level of happiness through a series of questionnaires. The results of the study concluded that the highest levels of happiness were reported when subjects were socially active and that the lowest levels of happiness were reported when subjects were alone.
Diener & Seligman (2002) studied the upper 10% of consistently happy people from a sample of 222 undergraduate students and compared them to very unhappy students and students with average levels of happiness. The results from the study indicated that the group of very happy students spent most of the time socialising and less time alone in comparison to very unhappy students and students with average levels of happiness. Results also showed that some members of the very unhappy group reported frequent socializing with friends and family, which suggests that satisfaction with social activity is more important than frequency in determining ones subjective well-being.
In a meta-analysis of 286 empirical studies comparing a number of factors with subjective well-being in the elderly (Pinquart & Sörensen 2000), it was found that social activity with friends rather than family was the strongest indicator of well-being. Social activity among the elderly scored significantly higher than socio-economic status and competence. This shows that social activity has a direct relationship to happiness among all age groups, even among the elderly.
The present study determined whether or not there was a positive correlation between social activity and subjective well-being. By examining the previous research on social activity and happiness, it was expected that there would be a positive correlation between the two factors. It was hypothesised that satisfaction with social activity would be more strongly linked to subjective well-being than frequency of social activity, it was also hypothesised that frequency of social activity with groups would be more strongly correlated to well-being than frequency of social activity with family and friends.
The 291 participants in this study consisted of 188 undergraduate psychology students from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) and 103 of their friends enrolled in various courses and universities. The sample consisted of 92 males, 198 females and 1 identified as other. Ages of participants ranged from 17 to 50 years, with a mean age of 20.94 (SD = 4.54). Eighty-three percent of the participants were studying full-time and 16.2% were studying part-time. Students enrolled in Foundations of Psychology lost marks for failing to participate in the survey; the student’s friends however, participated on a voluntary basis and were offered no incentives.
The 5-item Satisfaction With Life Scale (Diener, Emmons, Larson & Griffin, 1985) was used to measure participants’ personal judgements of their well-being. The scale consists of 5 general statements of life satisfaction (e.g., “In most ways my life is close to ideal”) and participants were instructed to choose an answer to the statement on a scale from 1 (strongly agree) to 7 (strongly disagree).
The Social Activity Measure (Cooper, Okamura, & Gurka, 1992) was also used; this measure consists of multiple choice questions designed to measure the quality and frequency of the participants level of social activity with friends, parents, other relatives and organised groups (e.g., Generally, how well do you get along with your close friend or friends?) Questions regarding demographic information such as age, sex and student status (full time or part time) were also included.
The 188 participants who were enrolled in Foundations of Psychology at RMIT were instructed to fill out the online survey, filling out their student number, age, sex, student status and the appropriate answers to the Satisfaction With Life Scale and Social Activity Measure. They were also instructed to recruit two friends enrolled in any course and studying at any university to complete the online survey. The results were then analysed by the course lecturer and tutors using the Statistical Package for Social Scientists (SPSS) and the procedures outlined in Cooper, Okamura & Gurka (1992) were followed in the study.
Analysis of the data found that there was a significant although weak positive correlation between social activity and well being r = 0.393, N = 291, p <0.001.
It was also found that satisfaction with social activity was correlated with well-being r = 0.416, N = 291, p < 0.001; and this correlation was stronger than the correlation between frequency of social activity and well-being r = 0.157, N = 291, p = 0.007. Both correlations were also significant.
There was also a weak yet significant correlation between well-being and frequency of social activity with friends r = 0.145, N = 291, p = 0.013. A weak and statistically insignificant correlation between well-being and frequency of social interaction with parents, r = 0.036, N = 291, p = 0.544. There was found to be a weak significant negative correlation between frequency of social activity and well-being, r = -0.170, N = 291, p = 0.004. It was found that a significant but weak positive correlation existed between well-being and frequency of social activity with groups, r = 0.200, N = 291, p = 0.001.
As hypothesised social activity is correlated with subjective well-being which supports the findings of Tkach & Lyubomirsky (2006), Csikszentmihalyi & Hunter (2003), Diener & Seligman (2002), Pinquart & Sörensen (2000) and the initial study by Cooper, Okamura and Gurka (1992). The results however, do not support the hypothesis that satisfaction with social activity would be strongly correlated with subjective well-being as the correlation found was only weak to moderate. These findings differ from previous studies (e.g., Cooper, Okamura & Gurka, 1992; Tkach & Lyumbormirsky, 2006), in which the correlation between social activity and subjective well-being was found to be strong. This could be attributed to the small sample size that was used and the fact that the sample was not particularly controlled and therefore wasn’t an accurate representation of society.
The hypothesis that frequency of social activity with groups would be more strongly correlated with well being than frequency of social activity with friends, parents or relatives was found to be supported. This reinforces the studies by Pinquart & Sörensen (2000), Diener & Seligman (2002) and Cooper Okamura & Gurka (1992).
The results displayed a negative correlation between social activity with relatives and subjective well-being, Pinquart & Sörensen (2000) explain that people generally experience higher levels of happiness around friends than relatives because ‘friendships are voluntary relationships’ whilst relationships with relatives are maintained not out of common interests but because of cultural normalities and formal obligations. Therefore it is possible that the negative correlation might be due to the subjects feeling obligated to visit relatives rather than actually wanting to be around them.
Future research should take more consideration into the sample size, ensuring it’s an accurate representation of our diverse society. It is also critical that further research on the topic focuses on closely examining the specific categories of social activities and which activities have a stronger influence on subjective well-being. It is also important to note that the findings of this study relate only to university students, considering the importance of interactions with friends, groups, parents and relatives are bound to change over the course of a lifespan, it would be beneficial for future studies to examine the developmental relationship of social activity and subjective well-being. Overall this study suggests that students who frequently engage in more satisfying social activities with a group of friends will have higher levels of subjective well-being than those who engage in unsatisfying and infrequent social activities with groups of friends. It is evident that relating social activity with subjective well-being is an informative method of understanding why people are happy or unhappy with their lives, as it is found that social activity is one of the strongest factors in determining one’s overall life satisfaction.
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