There's sad news in the study of happiness.
Rest assured, there is a happy ending, though.
UC's Keith King (at right) studied college students' levels of perceived happiness.
Credit: Photo provided by Keith King
University of Cincinnati research on perceived happiness shows that many college students are stressed out and aren't coping.
This is despite the fact that there are simple ways for students to relieve stress and feel happier, says Keith King, professor and coordinator of UC's Health Promotion and Education Program. The trouble is, they don't use them enough.
"We have a whole array of different stress-management techniques college students can use and that we teach, but they're not using them. That contributes to their stress levels, which contributes to their unhappiness," King says.
The research led by King, "A Study of Stress, Social Support, and Perceived Happiness Among College Students," was recently published in the Journal of Happiness & Well-Being, an online international peer-reviewed journal.
King says many simple and effective techniques exist for managing stress. He suggests a few immediate and long-term methods for soothing frayed nerves.
- Stop, pause and breathe: "In the moment when you're stressed, you need to slow down, you pause, you take some deep breaths. Maybe you count backwards from 10. Those types of things calm everything down and slow it down."
- See the bigger picture: "Try to see the bigger picture. Is what you're experiencing really that big of a deal or not?"
- Contact a friend: "Everyone has phones on them. Call your buddy and let him know what's going on so you can express those feelings and get them off you as quickly as possible."
- Diet and exercise: "People who eat healthy and exercise tend to have lower stress levels. Exercise allows for some of that negative energy to get burned off. Eating healthy helps individuals avoid feeling weighted down."
- Daily "me time": "Take time out of the day that's your time. It could be just 10 minutes. Go outside and walk, just enjoy something for you. If you hate exercising, then do something you enjoy. That's paramount."
- Remember to H.A.L.T.: "Make sure you're not Hungry, you're not Angry, you're not Lonely and you're not Tired. If you can take care of those four things, you're significantly more likely to be unstressed."
King and fellow UC researchers Ashley Merianos, Rebecca Vidourek and Meha Singh based their study on an anonymous, voluntary survey taken by 498 students assessing their overall happiness and stress level. Results showed that students who reported low perceived happiness felt higher stress levels and lower emotional closeness to others. Many reported they felt stressed but weren't doing anything about it: 61 percent reported having high stress and 72 percent reported low frequency in using stress-management techniques.
King notes that people tend to over-complicate their lives and to ignore the potential benefit a five-minute walk outside or a quick water break could have on their emotional state. Just because these techniques are simple, he says, doesn't mean they are ineffective.
"It's not rocket science, but the reality of it is a lot of people aren't doing the positive to get happy. People don't really know or they think some of the basics to happiness that we suggest are too fluffy. They're not. They're research-supported. Do these things and you'll feel happier," King says.
It's something he says everyone could benefit from.
"This study is looking at college students, but it is generalizable to all people. We recommend the students take this information and share it with their families. Let them know if they want to be happier, they need to focus on reducing their stress and get some social support and care."