Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Are You Happy? Happiness Survey Results

August 24, 1998

Last February, more than 460 readers of my column answered a survey about how happy they are with life.

Of course, the answers reflect a sample of people who took the time to fill out the survey and return it. This is different from a random sample of the population as a whole or even a sample of those who read this column. The best way to evaluate the results is to look at those who did respond and then wonder what may be going on in the general population.

Who answered the survey? Almost 60 percent who answered were women. The average age of everyone was 56 years, with two-thirds falling between ages 43 and 69. Of those that replied, 72 percent were married, 13 percent widowed, 7 percent divorced or separated, 2 percent cohabiting, and 6 percent never married.

An amazing 43 percent were college graduates, with10 percent of those having had graduate or professional education beyond college. Only six percent had less than a high school education, while 40 percent had graduated from high school and ten percent had gotten some college education. Forty percent had incomes between 25 and 50 thousand dollars with 36 percent being below that figure and 24 percent making more.

Occupations varied tremendously. Twenty-eight percent were retired, farm and ranch owners 33 percent, professional or technical careers at 18 percent, homemakers 17 percent, business owners or managers 13 percent, public service workers 7 percent, sales 4 percent, blue collar 2 percent, and others at 13 percent. A farm or ranch is home for 35 percent, 26 percent live in a community of more than 20,000 and 39 percent live in communities ranging from less than 1,000 to under 20,000.

Seventy-three percent went to church each week. Twenty four percent reported some dissatisfaction with their incomes, 10 percent with their marriages, and 8 percent have trouble with retirement. Those that are unhappy at work are at 13 percent. There were 8 percent who felt dissatisfied with spiritual development. Health was a serious concern for seven percent. There were 57 percent who felt they put more time into their community then the average Joe, 19 percent felt they were average in participating while 25 percent felt they weren’t too involved with community affairs.

Some key findings were:

- Sadly, nineteen percent weren’t as happy with their lives as they were five years ago, but nearly 40 percent were just as satisfied and 46 percent were more satisfied. A vast majority - 80 percent - felt more than satisfied with life, 10 percent had average satisfaction and 11 percent were dissatisfied.

- More job satisfaction predicted which people felt better about their lives from five years ago while those who felt worse were less satisfaction with their occupations and income. Being satisfied with your income was more important in life satisfaction than the amount of income.

- The main predictors of happiness was satisfaction in marriage followed by satisfaction with income. Other factors included being happy with friends and social life, your job or career and getting involved with the community. It doesn't seem to matter as a factor in being happy whether you are male or female or where you live.

- Married and widowed respondents were more satisfied with life than the never married, separated or divorced. Factors predicting marital satisfaction included satisfaction with current occupation, spiritual development, income, friends and social opportunities and contact with family and relatives.

- Many more farmers and ranchers were unhappy with their incomes than people with other occupations. Farmers and ranchers were much less satisfied with their lives compared with five years ago. Homemakers were more satisfied than all other occupational groups.

- Most people planned to retire in the same community where they were living. However, people who lived in communities of less than 1,000 people were more likely to retire elsewhere. The main factors in deciding to retire locally were their social relationships and satisfaction at work. For those already retired, the key factors in satisfaction with retirement were an adequate income and being spiritually content.

- Factors predicting satisfaction with a level of spirituality included satisfaction with friends and social opportunities, current occupation, marriage, contact with family and relatives and greater participation in the community.

- Older respondents made less money but were more satisfied with their income. People in larger communities made more money but were not more satisfied with their income. People who were more highly educated make more money but were not more satisfied with their income.

- Those reporting higher community involvement had higher satisfaction with friends, social opportunities, spiritual development, enjoyed good health, lived in smaller communities and placed more importance on friends in their lives. The greater the number of hours donated in community volunteering the greater the prediction of satisfaction with family and relatives, income and current occupation.

Most people who responded to this survey were happy with their lives, marriages, careers, incomes, relationships with family, friends and relatives, health, retirement, communities and their level of spirituality. Happily, their lives are also getting better with time.

Thanks goes to Randy Sell of North Dakota State University Department of Ag Economics for his help with data analysis.