Happiness formula

Recent UWL graduate Stephanie Drefahl says the analytical and problem-solving skills she learned through undergraduate research experience will be useful as she begins her career as a Financial Analyst with IBM.

Economics student compared happiness of UWL and Frankfurt students

What makes people happy?

If you answered, money, consider this: The U.S. Gross National Product per capita has risen by a factor of three since 1960, yet measures of average happiness have stayed about the same, according to the World Happiness Report, a survey of global happiness.

Happiness is complex. Money often plays a role, particularly for poor people who could move out of difficult situations, past research has shown. But money is one of many factors in the happiness equation, explains recent UWL graduate Stephanie Drefahl.

As a UWL senior, Drefahl surveyed 160 college students from Germany and the U.S. to better understand and compare their financial well-being and happiness.

Drefahl presented her research at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research, April 6-8, at the University of Memphis.

Drefahl says a College of Business Administration course initially got her interested in Happiness Economics, a growing field that gets to the root happiness in a data-driven way.

In Donna Anderson’s Environmental and Ecological Economics course, Drefahl learned about how mass consumption in affluent countries has environmental consequences. She wondered whether or not people were happier with more stuff — like the latest fashionable clothing or the newest electronic devices. Past studies have asked similar questions, but Drefahl wanted to understand the economics of happiness from college students’ perspective, across two different cultures.

She received a $3,500 UWL Undergraduate International Research Grant to conduct research in Germany in summer 2016. She surveyed about 80 students in economics classes at both the Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences and UWL to compare both groups’ happiness and overall well-being.

In addition to asking students to rank their overall happiness, Drefahl also asked them about various factors such as their standard of living and access to healthcare. She wanted to see if these and other measures played a role in happiness or if the effect of those variables were significantly different between German and U.S. students.

She found no significant difference in overall happiness between German and U.S. students. U.S. students did report feeling stressed more frequently and worrying about having access to healthcare more frequently than German students. German students more frequently worried about immigration than U.S. students.

Drefahl adds that undergraduate research has contributed to her own happiness. Her research project has turned “into something more than I had ever imagined,” allowing her to work with “amazing faculty” and meet students with similar passions, she says.