Wojik offers lecture about measuring happiness

Sean Wojik presented his lecture “A Multi-Method Approach to Measuring Subjective Well-Being” in the Business and General Studies Building, Room 144 on Thursday, April 24.

Wojik’s lecture was geared towards the study of happiness done by finding the gross national happiness, or GNH. Results are skewed by what he calls “self-enhancement.” Wojik defines self-enhancement as the phenomenon in which people will perceive themselves in an unrealistic light.

“I’m urging for reform on how the GHP is calculated to reduce the reliance on self-report survey’s because of the self-enhancement of the survey takers,” Wojik said.

The lecture opened with Wojik emphasizing the role happiness has in American culture while paying special attention to the Declaration of Independence’s three inalienable rights.

He offered his own seven studies on measuring happiness. Through these studies, Wojik hopes to prove the prevalence of self-enhancement in self-report studies where the survey allows people to measure their own happiness. The first study was done through yourmorals.com, a website that Wojik helped put together. It was a standard self-report survey of 1,200 people.

The question he posed was, “Do self-enhancement report happiness at an unreal level?” With the survey showing that a majority of survey takers reported that they are happier than average, Wojik’s answer was, “yes.”

The second survey took 128 participants and split them up into two groups; one was provided with a report from Yale University stating the positives of being happy and the second was presented with an opposing Yale study stating the negatives of being too happy.

The first group reported that they had an above average happiness while the second group reported that they were not as happy, showing that the self-enhancers given the positive report didn’t change their answers while the second did when presented with the negatives of happiness.

“Self-enhancement isn’t making people happy, they are only reporting that they are,” Wojik said.

In the third study, Wojik examined the happiness gaps between different groups including old versus young, single versus married and liberals versus conservatives. The survey included 46,058 people.

Wojik’s next question, specifically aimed at the difference in happiness between liberals and conservative, “Are these happiness gaps the result of self-enhancement or are they genuinely happier?”

To answer his own question Wojik uses his next four studies to look at the use of happy words and the frequency of smiles between the two political parties.

Using a method that is not a self-report Wojik is eliminating the factor of self-enhancement to see if the happiness gaps are an accurate portrayal of the two groups. Wojik used a tool that measures the frequency of positive words spoken on the floor of congress and on Twitter. A total of 18 million words led to the conclusion that liberals where more likely to use positive words in contrast to those more conservative.

The next non-self-report was looking at the frequency of genuine smiles between the two parties using public pictures of congressmen and women and politically affiliated LinkedIn profiles. The result was that liberals on average smiled genuinely more often than conservatives.

The conclusion that Wojik came to was that self-enhancement does in fact distort report surveys.