In today’s society, it seems that we’re all just trying to seek out happiness in whatever form we can find it. We look at self-help books, treat ourselves to physical pleasures, search for love, and work a job to afford these things all in an effort to achieve the goal that every person before us has to achieve. Happiness, however, is an elusive creature and even trying to pin down exactly what it is can be difficult. Thankfully, there seems to be no shortage of intellectuals from various fields that are happy to contribute their research to the patchwork quilt that makes up our understanding of what happiness is and how to attain it. One such study was published in January of 2017 by a coalition of computer scientists and psychologists at the University of Cambridge.
This study was conducted to determine if there might be a correlation between movement and happiness. It has already been shown in multiple studies that physical exercise has a variety of benefits both physical and mental, but the authors of this study wanted to see if there was a positive correlation between less strenuous forms of movement and happiness. In order to test this hypothesis, an app was developed that would help collect data to see if the correlation existed. The app, released to users of Android cell phones, periodically questioned the user throughout the day about when they had last been active and what their mental state was like. The physical aspect of the data was corroborated by the accelerometers in the phones. Data was collected from February 2013 to June 2014 and when the data was analyzed the results seemed to support the original hypothesis. There does seem to be a positive correlation between physical movement, even as relaxed as walking, and happiness.
That being said, it is very important to point out somethings about the nature of this study and of correlations themselves. First, by the definition of a correlation, we cannot determine a causal relationship based on this study alone. We do not know if people who move often are happier than others or if happy people ae more likely to move than others. Second, there are some limitations built into the study itself. The study was conducted only with people who had access to the Google Play store during the time when the study was conducted and as it was entirely volunteer based, results of this study can only technically be applied to those who participated and not to the populace at large. Another flaw, however unavoidable, in this study was that the measure of people’s happiness was determined by self-report and furthermore happiness was defined based on people’s moods and whether they identified with certain adjectives such as “calm” or “anxious” which, it could be argued, is not a very good operationalization of happiness.
Regardless of the limitations of the study, I certainly thing that it’s interesting to think about and I can’t see any harm doing a little study of your own and to see if your overall sense of happiness is affected if you make an effort to increase the level of physical activity in your life.
Over the course of this project, I have learned quite a bit about the difficulties associated with both journalistic writing in general as well as the coverage of psychology in journalism as well. I was very lucky in that I chose a fairly decent article to begin with so I had a good model of what I wanted to accomplish. In this case I didn’t struggle to keep myself within the confines of the limit set by the original news article, but I didn’t go into an extreme amount of detail and focused primarily on the premise of the study, how it was conducted and the results. Even in regard to those topics, I didn’t get into as much detail as I could have for two primary reasons. First, I didn’t feel like all of it was crucial for the understanding of the study. Second, there were some aspects of the study especially in regard to how the results were calculated and technicalities involving the app that I can’t describe because even I don’t fully understand them.
When I first started this project, I couldn’t understand why journalists and news outlets would produce news that was so sensationalized and sometimes misleading. Now I have a better understanding of why they do it once I found myself in the position of trying to summarize a scholarly article with limited words and an audience that may or may not have a background in psychology. It’s hard to cover all the bases when you have limited space and still want your article to seem relevant to people. Hearing that movement has a positive correlation to a very specific definition of happiness, but only verifiably for a specific group of people isn’t really sexy or groundbreaking. It’s much more attractive to just say that movement probably makes you happier and leave it at that. In the future, I will be much more skeptical of pop psychology reports in the future.