What makes West Lafayette smile? Students taking happiness study to Austria

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — How happy is West Lafayette? What can the city do to make residents happier? Are happy citizens healthier citizens? Student researchers and faculty from Purdue Honors College are helping West Lafayette dig into those questions and preparing to take that work to an international conference.

The small team will share ideas with top researchers Sept. 28-30 at the International Society for Quality-Of-Life Studies conference in Innsbruck, Austria, while laying out a plan to use West Lafayette as a case study for gauging happiness. The Honors College is assisting city leaders in launching the second phase of the “Happy West Lafayette” project.  It asks West Lafayette residents, including Purdue students and staff, to track their daily satisfaction levels by downloading a free app.  Available on the Google Play Store and Apple App Store, the application will also gather feedback on city amenities like living environment, medical service and air quality.  The data may eventually be used to inform public policy and guide development.

“We’ve never had such a direct way to take the temperature of the city, to gauge how large numbers of people feel about this community and what elements make them happy or unhappy,” West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis said. “Unless someone sends an email or shows up to a community meeting, it can be a challenge to know what they’re thinking and how to respond.”

Honors College student and research team member Megan Conklin says “Happy West Lafayette” gives the Purdue campus a voice, while also highlighting the link between happiness and physical well-being. Research suggests happy people tend to be healthier and more engaged in their communities, the pharmacy major added.

“As we see mental health diagnoses skyrocket, happiness and quality-of-life are taking more of a front seat in wellness discussions,” Conklin said.  “This project is a chance to be a catalyst for change, whether it be adding more green spaces or guiding local development.”

Conklin, her fellow team members and Honors College Dean Rhonda Phillips worked with the Germany-based Happiness Research Organization to create the app last spring.  They are now helping spread the word about its availability as the Happiness Research Organization collects the data and conducts its research.  Eventually, the Honors College team will present a comprehensive report on happiness to the city.  Phillips says the ISQOLs conference will add depth to that work, by helping students think of happiness and quality-of-life issues in a truly interdisciplinary way.

“This is an international gathering of scholars from across disciplines, who are working together to answer broad questions about how we thrive as individuals and as a society, ” she said.  “Our students and faculty will have exposure to economists, psychologists, health and business professionals, development studies experts and philosophers. ”

Phillips encourages all Purdue students and staff to participate in “Happy West Lafayette.” The easy-to-use app is available for both Android and iOS users. After a brief initial survey, it will send push notifications four times a day asking you to record your levels of happiness using emoticons.  You will also note what you are doing at the time.  If you have any trouble using the application please contact the Happiness Research Organization support team at info@happiness-research.org.