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Image: Senorhorst Jahnsen via Flickr/Creative Commons

How happy are you? Scientists want to know

The Science Gallery’s new exhibition ‘Happy? Take a Second Look’ uncovers the true mood of the nation – and will putting the country to the happiness test.
Apr 26th 2012, 8:30 PM 7,056 13

IS IRELAND HAPPY as a nation? The Science Gallery in Trinity College is trying to find out.

Through experiments carried out over the course of this month – including a nationwide happiness test – the department of psychology wants to determine what makes us happy.

Twitter is even being used to measure the mood of the nation. James Eggers, winner of the BT Young Scientist competition 2011, came up with the idea of using the social media platform to determine the moods of the people from around Ireland.

His experiment, which ties in nicely with the Science Gallery’s exhibition ‘Happy? Take a Second Look’ that opens to the public tomorrow, is also trying to determine what makes us smile.

If you tweet and include #sghappy your sentiment gets analysed, mapped by county (pictured below) and you change the lighting in the Science Gallery. As of this morning, the people of Kilkenny were the happiest lot of us.

As you walk past the gallery at night, you can take a look in and see the lights dip or brighten depending on how we are all feeling (on Twitter that is).

(The map at Happy? showing the change in moods across the country on Twitter. Image: Christina Finn)

Ireland is going through one of the biggest economics shocks but according to the Science Gallery (and the UN), Ireland is still ranked in the top ten happiest countries in the world.

The gallery’s new exhibition seeks to know what keeps our spirits up. The staff and researchers have designed eleven experiments – turning the gallery visitors into test subjects.

Sitting in little sound proof pods, a few simple questions will help judge if we are a happy or grumpy bunch of folk.

‘Bound to Be’ is an experiment that tests some of the personality characteristics that can influence how we choose a partner and thus how this relates to our well-being.

You are given a choice between two or three romantic partner choices. It is kind of like being on blind date where you must choose a partner based on their characteristics.

So do you choose the partner that is 73 per cent attractive, 60 per cent honest and 65 per cent intelligent? Or will it be the partner who is 55 per cent attractive, 66 per cent honest and 87 per cent intelligent?

After a number of these choices you are then asked a number of questions, eg, do you get stressed out in social situations. All this is meant to determine how happy our partner choices make us. And the experiment even tells you how fast it takes you to decide between partners. (I took 9.95 seconds on average to choose between three options of partners…)

(The partner matching test. Image: Christina Finn)

Thinking of happy memories makes us happy – but according to Niamh Nic Aodha Bhui of Trinity’s department of psychology your thoughts can be altered. A simple marble test can help you see that by simply raising your head up high or looking down low can change how you feel. The way your body moves can affect the way you think.

She said:

Think of a happy memory, pick up a marble from the box and place it on the lower shelf. In your mind you are meant to feel a little less good about that happy memory. If you pick it up again and place it on the top shelve you are meant to feel more positive. So there is a lot to be said for raising your head high and not looking towards the ground.

Ireland is one of the world leaders in donations per capita in terms of emergency aid – so does helping others make us happier? ‘Happy to Help’ experiment through a series of prompts explores what makes us give to charity and measures whether donating to charities effects our personal mood. Images of charity appeals are shown and you are asked – would this make you donate? Do you feel you can help? The experiment aims to determine does being generous make us happier people.

The Science Gallery will also be launching a nationwide happiness test in the next two weeks. People who sign up to the experiment will be emailed approximately once a week and asked how they are feeling.

Jessica Stanley from the department of psychology said the experiment which will run until November will be interesting. She told TheJournal.ie:

It will be great to see the mood of the nation over a longer period of time. We will be able to see how events – like the European Cup Final for instance – will effect the nation’s happiness.

Charlotte Wilson, a development psychologist, said, “This exhibition is a great way to get people to contribute to Trinity research. Instead of putting out an appeal for candidates, this exhibition will bring in thousands of test subjects. Also we are looking to get a wide range of candidates – male and female – but also different ages also. It will be interesting to see how men and women’s different actions effect their happiness.”

She added that due the high volume of candidates it will take a while to correlate all the results.

The Science Gallery’s new exhibition ‘Happy? Take a Second Look’ opens today and runs until 3 June 2012. All experiments are free. To participate a consent form must be filled out prior to taking part. All information collected is strictly confidential.

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Christina Finn

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