How are people responding to social distancing protocols during the pandemic? The Fall 2020 Positive Psychology course created a survey to find out. While media typically highlight problems, students in the course focused on benefits and opportunities instead.
Positive Psychology students explore human strengths, or the qualities and processes that promote life satisfaction. These human strengths affect personality, relationships, and decision-making, and ultimately benefit overall well-being. APU students surveyed individuals to determine their well-being and found many residents of Alaska remained positive despite the pandemic.
To create the survey, students developed specific research questions and used standard Positive Psychology questionnaires. Students shared the final survey, “Flourishing in a time of social distance,” on social media and encouraged APU staff, faculty, and students to share as well.
The survey returned 600 responses in just five days. Participants ranged in age from 19 to 78; the Alaska Native community represented 36.5 percent of respondents. With too much data to address during class, student groups focused on specific issues including social media use, values exploration, and community and culture.
The social media group looked at people who decreased their social media use since the beginning of the pandemic and reported feeling more connected to others. 100 percent of those agreed that their social relationships were supportive and rewarding, that they were engaged and interested in daily activities, and that they actively contribute to the happiness and well-being of others. 78 percent also reported being careful with their exposure risk. Positive Psychology students surmised this group found alternate methods to connect that were compliant with social distancing guidelines, such as making more quality time to spend with family.
Many students in the class identified a self-assessment process as a personal positive impact from the pandemic and wondered if this was a common experience. Nearly 85 percent of survey respondents agreed that they found themselves reevaluating values or priorities since the pandemic. Those respondents also all agreed that in most ways their lives were close to ideal, that the conditions in their lives were excellent, and that they were satisfied with life. In fact, most survey respondents appeared to be flourishing and satisfied with their lives.
Our final group asked participants to use their own definition of community to answer questions about community support. Answers to this question did not vary based upon perceptions of pandemic severity, as the students thought they might. Results did vary based upon self-identified racial/ethnic group. People who identified as Alaska Native or American Indian were more likely than those who identified as White or Caucasian to endorse an increase in community support while also endorsing the use of stricter social distancing protocols. The students suspected this might be related to ANTHC healthcare information and programs, and to community stories or historical knowledge related to the 1918 flu pandemic.
Like all good researchers, the Positive Psychology class would like to remind folks to take these results with a grain of salt. This was a descriptive survey with sampling and methodological issues that was designed as a student learning tool. The greatest takeaway: perhaps negative news reports promote the belief that things are worse than our participants report. We will not know what is going well, or how people are thriving, if we don’t focus on the positives.