(WKBN) – One of life’s greatest questions is searching for the meaning of happiness. At Penn State Shenango, they’ve been working on an international study to learn more about what brings us joy.
For three weeks, two students from the Valley partnered up with students from Paris. That study just happened to be going on during COVID-19, when France was on lockdown and facing curfews.
They learned that people aren’t all that different, even if they’re half a world away.
“How do you really define what happiness is?” questioned Leigha Owrey, an occupational therapy assistant student.
The question has baffled philosophers for millenia.
“When we were trying to define happiness in English as opposed to French, it was difficult to define happiness,” Owrey said.
So, they took an individual approach.
“We started talking about what personally brought us happiness, and we found that, even though as people we are very, very different — we were all raised super differently and from different cultures — some of the things that make us happy are very similar. Spending time with our families, spending time with people we love, the people who fill us up,” Owrey said.
However, there was one key difference between American and French students.
“The French students seemed to really view happiness more internally, more introspective. Where the American students were a little more reliant on relationships,” said Tammy Divens, occupational therapy program director.
During the study, American students faced comparatively less stringent COVID-19 restrictions than their counterparts in Paris.
French students faced a 7 p.m. curfew and other restrictions.
“Different businesses and stores were being fined for being open. What the one French student was telling me that really, really affected her mental health, she realized how badly she needed people and connection,” Owrey said.
Fueling students to concentrate on their study of happiness so they could have more human connection.
“I think that this project could not have come at a better time,” Divens said. “When we were all so socially limited.”