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Is Your Smart Phone a Path to Happiness?

“A man only learns in two ways, one by reading and the other by association with smarter people.”                                                                                                                                                               ~Will Rogers~

Is Your Smart Phone a Path to Happiness?

I thought about titling this article, “Men, their home is their castle and they don’t want to leave.” Too long, but according to a new Princeton study, true. More on that in a minute.

I stuck with the smart phone title because that’s the important news; not the research itself but the way in which the research data was collected.

John Palmer, a graduate student and researcher at Princeton University has been developing ways to use smart phones to explore how a person’s environment influences their sense of happiness or well-being.

Palmer and other researchers enlisted volunteers who shared information about their feelings and locations with the researchers via their smart phones. The idea is based on the premise that cell phones can more readily capture information which would otherwise be lost or at least be very difficult to obtain.

They Have an App for That

Before computers, collecting research data was often a tedious and monumentally boring task that didn’t always offer accurate results. Along came the computers and the internet and, like all of life it seems, we were off to the races. In fact the internet was born because scientist wanted to share data with each from their respective universities.

We have social media contributing; just last week, using Twitter, researchers informed us which cities were the “Happiest” in the country. Why, because Twitter was there and there and there…

I have to say, that creating “an app for that” is taking it to a whole new level.

An article in “e science news” explained it this way:

The investigators invited people to download the app, and over a three-week period, collected information from 270 volunteers in 13 countries who were asked to rate their happiness on a scale of 0 to 5. From the information collected, the researchers created and fine-tuned methods that could lead to a better understanding of how our environments influence emotional well-being. The study was published in the June issue of “Demography.” 

The mobile phone method could help overcome some of the limitations that come with surveys conducted at people’s homes, according to the researchers. Census measurements tie people to specific areas — the census tracts in which they live — that are usually not the only areas that people actually frequent. You can check out the article here.

The reasoning behind the study was to follow people beyond their “census track” (outside the place they normally would be interviewed for this type of study – like their homes.) Because according to Palmer, “People spend a significant amount of time outside their census tracks.”

Palmer said that his central interest at this point is on learning how to effectively use smart devices to collect relevant information, rather than to reach any hard and fast conclusions about the link between environment and happiness.

This brings me back to my possible second headline about men being “closeted homebodies.”

It turns out that one of the preliminary results was that men tended to describe themselves as less happy the farther from home they got. Women on the other hand had no such angst when it came to distance from home.

This conclusion, however, pointed up one of the limitations in the study. Despite the fact that some of the participants were outside of the U.S. – Palmer noted that, “One of the limitations of the study is that it is not representative of all people.”

This research is in its “infancy” as Palmer is going to expand on his research and according to his adviser, Marta Tienda, “His applied research promises to redefine how social scientists understand intergroup relations on many levels.”

So we have that to look forward to, because, I’m sure that the new “smart phone research” will yield some strange and interesting discoveries about our relationship to happiness.


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