Perceived happiness and the strength of social ties

[Note:  Social Science in the Caucasus is publishing the work of six young researchers who entered CRRC-Georgia’s Junior Fellowship Program (JFP) in February 2015. This is the fifth blog post in the series. Click here to see the first, secondthird, and fourth posts in the series.]

By Mariam Londaridze

Findings of a 2002 experimental study of University of Illinois students suggests that being a part of a strong social network might not guarantee happiness, but is one of the necessary conditions for being happy. Another study showed that both strong (family and friends) and weak (random acquaintances) social ties can contribute to happiness. This blog post examines how Georgians’ reported level of happiness differs by a number of measures of social ties, using data from the 2014 Volunteering and Civic Participation in Georgia survey funded by USAID and East-West Management Institute. Although this is a slightly oversimplified approach, throughout this blog post we refer to those who report being happy as “happy” people and those reporting being unhappy as “unhappy”.

There is a notable difference of 31% between happy and unhappy people reporting whether they enjoy meeting new people or not, amounting to 80% and 49%, respectively.

Note: A 10-point scale was used to record respondents’ answers to both questions. On the scale for the question “Overall, how happy would you say you are?” code 1 corresponded to the answer “very unhappy”, and code 10 corresponded to the answer “very happy”. For the analysis, the original scale was re-coded into a 3-point one, with original codes 1 through 4 corresponding to “unhappy”, codes 5 and 6 – “neither happy nor unhappy” and codes 7 through 10 – “happy”. The scale measuring answers to the statement “I enjoy meeting new people” was re-coded identically.
Happy people report there are “plenty of people” around them they can rely on when they have problems more often than unhappy people. While 61% of happy Georgians report having such people around, only 29% of unhappy ones report the same. The same tendency is observed when asked, “If you were ill, are there people besides those in your immediate household who would look after you without expecting any compensation?” While 79% of happy people reported “yes”, 60% of unhappy people did the same.

While 51% of unhappy people report that they have “helped their neighbor or a friend with some household chores or childcare” during the past 6 months, 77% of happy people report the same. It might not come as a surprise that 70% of happy people in Georgia report feeling being helpful to many people outside their family, while only 38% of unhappy people report the same.
Even though this post did not use a comprehensive measure of strength of social ties, the findings presented suggest that people who report being happy have stronger social ties compared to those who are unhappy. Hence, the findings we referred to in the beginning of this blog post likely hold true for the population of Georgia.

For more on happiness in the South Caucasus, you can find an earlier blog post on Happiness in Georgia, and have a look at the data using CRRC’s Online Data Analysis tool.