Index shows happy graduates

By Drum Digital
18 March 2013

A group of university graduates were found to be happy with life overall, but with underlying work and financial issues worrying them, according to the Bureau of Market Research's first "Happiness Index" released on Monday.

According to the survey of 4207 South African graduates of the University of SA (Unisa), the majority of graduates appear happy with their family life. Approximately two thirds indicated happiness with friendships and spiritual life.

"The finding that the majority of graduates were found to be satisfied with life is not unexpected in view of graduates' sense of achievement, goal attainment and success," said BMR researcher Jacolize Poalses.

For the study, graduates were categorised according to generational theory which groups of people of similar age who face similar issues and are affected by similar life events.

They are: the so-called GI generation (born 1900 to late 1920s), the Silent or Veteran generation (born 1929 to 1945), Boomers or Baby Boomers (born 1946 to late 1960s), Generation X (born 1968 to late 1980s) and the Millennials or Generation Y (born 1980-present).

This study focused on the Silent generation (ages 65-81), Baby Boomers (ages 46-64), Generation X (also known as X'ers) (25-45) and Generation Y and Millennials) (18-24).

The study found insignificant gender differences, but clear age-related differences in graduates' general mood, satisfaction with life, happiness in life spheres, and general psychological wellness.

"The Silent generation differed from the other generations with a greater proportion expressing a positive general emotive state and a smaller percentage conveying a negative affective state compared to the other generations," researchers said.

Overall, a sense of happiness was evident with regard to four of the six life spheres included in the study. However work life and financial position elicited the least happiness.

Approximately one in two graduates expressed feeling happy about their physical life sphere.

Poalses said reasons for levels of distress had not been asked for in this first study of its kind, but it was hoped for in future studies.

Assumptions were that when more cognitive, rational questions were asked, higher levels of distress could come to the fore.

The majority of the Silent generation reported feeling happier with, specifically, spirituality, work- and financial life. A lower proportion of Generation X, Baby Boomers and Millennial said this.

According to Poalses this seemed to reflect the "apparent comfortable emotive state expressed by the Silent Generation, with an increased focus on spiritual fulfilment and a settled life style".

She said theorists in the field of positive psychology reasoned that the happiness-success link existed not only because success made people happy, but also because positive affect engendered success.

She said the study illustrated that psychological wellness levels reflecting both mental coping ability and mental distress differed between generations.

"Interestingly, and somewhat unexpectedly, the Silent Generation expressed relatively lower psychological wellness levels than the other generations."

Prof Pierre Joubert, BMR director of the behavioural and communication research division, felt that this finding confirmed the dual nature of happiness, reflecting both emotive states, and at other times appearing as more rational evaluations of feelings.

The apparent higher levels of satisfaction with life and life spheres expressed by a greater proportion of the Silent generation were primarily emotive in nature and indicative of contentment and acceptance of their current life stage.

"However, higher reported instances of strain, worry, unhappiness, despair and lack of confidence indicate an apparent disjuncture between the emotive and rational state within this generation," said Joubert.

"This seems to indicate that this generation, when given time and opportunity to reflect on their psychological wellness, express higher levels of distress than younger generations."

Poalses said this generation could feel happy and confident about where they were, but on reflection, might feel they could have taken a different path, but did not.

Researchers compared their findings with United Kingdom studies. They found that UK adults display significantly lower levels of psychological distress, with more than half of UK adults experiencing no mental distress.

BER researchers found that overall, graduates indicated they were a more meaningful part in things and were finding enjoyment in normal day-to-day activities.

But they also reported being constantly under strain and that they had been losing sleep over worry, being more inclined to feel depressed and struggling to overcome difficulties.

Poalses said researchers hoped to begin a tracking survey this year to find out the exact reasons for respondents feeling the way they do.

"We feel very happy with what we accomplished. We also have more questions."

She explained that the significance of the survey was that research had proven that happiness affected overall performance, and happier graduates could lead to more positive economic growth.

-by Sapa

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