Mon, Oct 20, 2014 - Page 8 News List

Taiwanese students not so happy

By David Pendery 潘大為

I have recently conducted research measuring happiness levels among Taiwanese university students, and from these findings I would like to recommend changes to government and education policies. Measuring happiness in life has become steadily more important in recent years as an indicator of just how people are subsisting and developing, with an eye toward future success and serenity.

Many governments and other institutions are measuring happiness in populations and correlating this with self-actualization, success and tranquility in life. Even Taiwan has explored these parameters, with the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics releasing the nation’s first Gross National Happiness index last year. This research found that Taiwanese had a “moderate” level of happiness.

However, what exactly is happiness? In addition to ostensible things like good feelings about life, satisfaction with friends, family and other relationships, excitement and fun, personal contentment and hope for the future, there are a few other important indicators to consider. External factors include material comforts and income; work satisfaction; vital community relations; decent governance; and access to education, arts and culture. More personal or internal factors include mental and physical health; rich values and religion; positive family experience; education; gender; and age.

Martin Seligman created the concept of PERMA to measure happiness, which refers to: Positive emotions; Engagement in life; Relationships; Meaning in life; and Accomplishments.

As this year’s UN World Happiness Report noted, the great thinkers and sages of world history have taught people that “material gain alone will not fulfill our deepest needs. Material life must be harnessed to meet these human needs, most importantly to promote the end of suffering, social justice, and the attainment of happiness.”

I conducted my survey measuring happiness factors using an index survey created by the Happiness Alliance, a large happiness organization in the US. Students from four colleges completed the survey. The data was collected in spring and fall this year, with one multiple sample that initially included 35 students in my culture and communication class at National Taipei College of Business — now National Taipei University of Business (NTUB) — which was increased by 89 more students in a combined group from NTUB and Tamkang University near Taipei in the fall.

Additionally, there were samples from Chien Hsin University of Science and Technology, south of Taipei (26 students), and Shih Hsin University in Taipei (58 to 64 students). The “domains” measured in the research included: satisfaction with life; material wellbeing; governance; environment; community vitality; social support; access to education, arts and culture; mental wellbeing; health; time balance; and work.

In a somewhat disturbing turn, the results showed that the students were not very happy and they scored decidedly lower than worldwide averages on several measures. Interestingly and compellingly, the lowest scores were in the “community” category and the related “social support” category. The figures in the community domain are fully 21 to 30 points less than the total worldwide average, a difference of 40 to 57 percent lower. The social support figures are 7 to 15 percent lower.

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