A force of nature
Surrounded by forest and ocean, UBC’s Vancouver campus has no shortage of breathtaking vistas. It was one of these vistas that a sparked an emotional reaction in Dr. Jiaying Zhao, Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at UBC.
When tears sprung to her eyes she realized what she felt was happiness. The scientist in her describes this as having an immediate affective experience. It was this very reaction that led her to launch Project Happiness, a year-long research project to discover where, when and why people are happiest on UBC’s Vancouver and Okanagan campuses.
“As soon as I arrived at UBC, I was taken aback by the beauty of the Vancouver campus. In my first week I walked around and took in the beauty of the Rose Garden, the beaches, and the mountains,” says Zhao, a recently named Canada Research Chair. “The campus has this powerful force of nature that induced a feeling of awe in me. I was happy and as a scientist I wanted to explore why I felt this way.”
After some research on what might determine a person’s subjective wellbeing – typically factors including your career, income, health and relationships – Zhao realized that the relationship of how our physical environment influences our wellbeing hasn’t been sufficiently explored.
A pin drop
Using a scientific approach she set out to create an interface that would allow the UBC community to plot their happiness in real time. In the online interactive survey participants can indicate how they are currently feeling and their physical location on UBC‘s Vancouver and Okanagan campuses.
“This study will provide a new line of evidence on links between our physical environment and our wellbeing,” says Zhao. “UBC is generally a very happy place, but it does fluctuate around exam time. We’ll be collecting the data over one year to examine the seasonal differences and we’ll be building spatial and temporal well-being maps of UBC.”
The online survey was developed by Structured Reports, a UBC-based startup company that specializes in software, research and data visualization. The company was founded by former UBC graduate students and the development and programming of the interface was primarily done by current UBC undergraduates.
Funded by a Hampton Research Grant, this project has great potential to provide new insights in a range of areas of interest to campus planners, city planners and policy makers.
“We can use this knowledge to guide campus planning – and even urban planning at a larger scale,” says Zhao. “It’s not just about Vancouver or UBC for that matter. It’s about understanding our overall wellbeing.”
Map your happy place: ubc-happiness.com
Jiaying Zhao is jointly appointed in UBC’s Department of Psychology and Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability. Her work is motivated by the fact that human behaviour is not only governed by internal cognitive processes, but also influenced by a rich set of external, environmental factors.