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How does social support affect happiness?

About the Author

My name is Julie. I am a high school senior and I joined the California Teachers Study as a summer intern. I excel in the math and science courses and I would love to become an Epidemiologist in the future. The field of science has always interested me because it amazes me just how incredible the human body can be.

This summer’s experience working on the California Teachers Study has allowed me to experience the true nature of research; it has taught me the importance of research because without it we would live in the dark without discovering cures that could bring hope and happiness to others. I hope that in the future I can contribute to research and help make the world a happier, healthier place.

Summary of Project

My mentor Dr. Sophia Wang and I initiated a project designed to define the correlates—indicators related to a certain outcome—of mental well-being in an aging female population. Defining the correlates between social support and the mental well-being is significant because mental health is closely linked to physical health. We hypothesized that three distinct types of social support—partners, family, and friends—all play a fundamental role in one’s happiness.

We analyzed data from the third California Teachers Study questionnaire in 2000 and used Tableau to visualize patterns of participant response to questions about happiness, social support, and personal demographics. The happiness question asked, “All in all, how happy are you these days?” Participants could answer one of three ways: “Not very happy”, “Somewhat happy”, and “Very Happy”.

Participant responses about their overall happiness in 2000

Our initial exploration of the data suggests that our hypothesis is partially correct: very happy people reported higher percentages of having supportive partners and/or friends. This suggests that partners and friendships may play a role in how happy study participants are. Married participants and those having a supportive partner also reported the highest levels of happiness. Among those that were very unhappy, we noted that about 70 percent also reported having supportive partners and friends. This suggests that there are strong external factors influencing happiness.

This project was the first step into understanding the relationship between happiness and social support among women in the California Teachers Study, and has provided a foundation for further investigation. We would like to further investigate the effect of chronic and medical conditions on happiness, considering conditions such as cancers, cardiovascular diseases, autoimmune conditions, and arthritis. We would also like to better understand correlates of happiness among cancer survivors and whether happiness and those correlates are related to better outcomes.


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