Saturday, July 13, 2013

Consolation for Harvard Quadlings

As an undergraduate at Harvard in the late 1990s, Dr. [Elizabeth] Dunn, the happiness expert, experienced the annual ritual, akin to the Hogwarts Sorting Hat in the Harry Potter series, whereby first-year students are randomly assigned to spend the rest of their college years in one of 12 dormitories or houses. In a longitudinal study published in 2003 with Timothy D. Wilson of the University of Virginia, and Daniel T. Gilbert of Harvard, both of whom are known for their research on the link between decision-making and well-being, she found that freshmen expected to be much happier living in one of the more desirable — handsome, centrally located — of the 12. But those who landed in plum surroundings ended up no happier than students in less desirable houses.

It is difficult to make a connection between the happiness of Harvard undergrads and real estate contentment elsewhere. But the study indicated that by placing so much weight on the physical characteristics of the houses, including location, room size and architectural appeal, the students overlooked what ended up contributing most to their happiness — the quality of their social life.