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A Study of the Happiness of Chinese University Students and Its Influencing Factors—A Case Study of Beijing Universities

School of Marxism, Beijing Jiaotong University, Beijing 100044, China
School of Mechanical Engineering, University of Science and Technology Beijing, Beijing 100083, China
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Sustainability 2022, 14(23), 16057;
Submission received: 21 September 2022 / Revised: 28 November 2022 / Accepted: 30 November 2022 / Published: 1 December 2022


The enhancement of university students’ happiness is important for self-growth, family togetherness, social stability, and national development. This study aimed to explore the main factors that influence university students’ happiness. This study constructs a system comprising of 17 factors, such as personal health status, family atmosphere, school life satisfaction, and degree of social justice, which are extracted into four dimensions—individual, family, societal, and school—according to principal component analysis. Based on the data pertaining to the current state of university students’ happiness, the study used Pearson Correlation Analysis to analyze the correlation between the four dimensions and university students’ happiness, and the interaction between four dimensions were researched by the mediation model. The results of the principal component analysis indicate that the individual dimension explained most of the factors influencing happiness, which is consistent with the feature of subjective well-being. Pearson Correlation Analysis showed that the four dimensions all have positive effects on students’ happiness, and there are also significant correlations among the four dimensions themselves. Additionally, mediating effects analysis shows a significant mediating effect among the four dimensions. Based on this, this study argues that the happiness of students needs to be improved by focusing on four areas: cultivating a positive personal psychology, passing down good family traditions and customs, paying attention to the leading role of school education, and building a just and harmonious social environment.

1. Introduction

Happiness is the purpose of life, and the pursuit of happiness is an underlying theme and driving force for human society. University students’ perceptions of happiness refer to the views and opinions of the university student community on what happiness is and how to pursue it. As an important representative group of young people, university students’ conceptions of happiness affect their life pursuits, value trade-offs, behavioral choices, etc. Studies have proven that the gender differences, age, grade level, school life, academic level, and family environment of university students have an impact on happiness [1,2,3]. However, there is still room for further research on the correlations between these factors and their specific effects on university students’ happiness. This study aims to explore the main factors that influence the happiness of university students, with a view to providing useful suggestions for promoting their holistic development for the benefit of society and the nation.
Having access to education, especially a university education, has long been recognized as one of the most important factors for happiness. Numerous studies find that people with a higher education level report higher levels of happiness [4,5,6]. China has ushered in an era of higher education expansion since 1999, and education has grown rapidly in the last two decades. The number of undergraduate and junior college students has increased from 7.191 million to 32.8529 million, and the number of postgraduate students has increased from 393.3 thousand to 3.1396 million [7]. The university student population is very large in China, which provides an ideal environment for us to study university students’ happiness. In their daily lives, university students mostly live with families and in schools; they have less contact with society, and it is presumed that families and schools play a mediating role in social and individual happiness. The questions of where the happiness of young university students derives from, and what factors influence their happiness, deserve in-depth study.
According to the 2015 Chinese General Social Survey (CGSS), for the question “Overall, do you think your life is happy”, 62.04% of the respondents said they were relatively happy, 18.09% said they were very happy, 14.12% said they cannot say whether they were happy or unhappy, 4.93% were relatively unhappy, and 0.82% were very unhappy. The mean value of happiness is 3.917 (the maximum score is 5), showing that the overall happiness of our youth is high [8]. Wang [9] measured the happiness of university students based on the well-being index, which shows that the mean value of Campbell’s happiness index for university students is (11.23 ± 3.23) (total score 2.1–14.7). This shows that university students’ happiness is at a high level. Further research and discussion must now turn to the factors that influence happiness, the interrelationships among these factors, and the relationship between each factor and happiness. Discussing the various factors affecting the happiness of university students is important both for understanding the concept of happiness, and for grasping the psychological state of university students.
As university students are a youth group, individual dimensional judgments are important determinants of their happiness levels. However, as members of a society, the happiness of university students is inevitably affected by other factors, such as academic performance, the family environment, social interactions, etc. If we examine university students’ happiness only on an individual level, we cannot accurately judge the influence of and relationship between other factors on university students’ happiness. Therefore, considering the influence of comprehensive factors on the happiness of university students, we designed a questionnaire to assess the happiness of Chinese university students from various perspectives; the questionnaire was given to the sample of university students in this study. The study of university students’ happiness and its influencing factors are based on the results of the questionnaire.

2. Literature Review

2.1. A Research Overview of the Concept of Happiness

What is happiness? Although the scientific study of happiness has flourished in the last few decades, the concept of happiness remains obscure. In this article, we have selected representative concepts of happiness for a brief introduction, and to suggest what we think happiness is, which is the theoretical premise of this study.
Since ancient times, philosophers have believed that there are two ways to achieve personal happiness: hedonism and eudaimonia [10]. Hedonism refers to the attainment of happiness through pleasure, comfort, and the satisfying of needs. Eudaimonia seeks to use and develop the best in oneself, in line with one’s deeper principles, such as kindness and human potential. Aristotle proposed that “happiness is a virtuous and realistic activity”. Bentham considers the matter of how to ensure the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. All of these ideas provide useful lessons for the modern study of happiness. In the mid-20th century, the debate about happiness shifted from philosophy to psychology. Wilson [11] offered the earliest exploration of the factors that affect happiness; he believed that factors such as youth, health, and education, and being well-paid, extraverted, optimistic, worry-free, religious, etc., are associated with happiness. This indicates that the study of happiness in psychology is beginning to incorporate empirical research science. Since then, psychological research on happiness has gone through stages of theoretical model construction, the development of measurement techniques, and has progressed towards the application of social indicators, forming the three research orientations of subjective well-being, psychological well-being, and social well-being, which constitute the general framework of happiness.
The conception of happiness differs across theoretical schools of thought. Several authors believe that happiness is a feeling [12,13,14]. Emotional condition and mood propensity are two aspects of happiness. The three faces of happiness are: (a) a state of attunement with your life, (b) your engagement with your situation, and (c) some emotional states, which serve as endorsements. Attunement is more applicable in Asian cultures, and endorsement or engagement is more accepted by American culture. Haybron [12] states that “to be happy is to have a favorable emotional condition”. He argues that both hedonistic and life satisfaction theories have their limitations and cannot fully explain the concept of happiness.
Ruut Veenhoven’s [14] definition of happiness is well known: “Overall happiness is the degree to which an individual judges the overall quality of his/her own life-as-a-whole favourably.” In Veenhoven’s opinion, happiness refers to degrees, that is, more or less of something. The term happiness is only able to describe the state of an individual, as it is a person’s subjective evaluation of life. There is no given “objective” standard for happiness. Moreover, happiness concerns satisfaction with life-as-a-whole, not individual parts of work or family life. We use our feelings and our thoughts to evaluate life, producing three different kinds of happiness: judgment covering overall happiness, hedonic level of affect, and contentment.
Shigehiro Oishi et al. [15] offered the first attempt to answer the question, “How much happiness is enough?”. The authors use the term “happiness” interchangeably with subjective well-being or the subjective evaluation of one’s life. The four components of happiness are: pleasant emotions, unpleasant emotions, life satisfaction, and domain satisfaction. As a summary judgment of one’s life, happiness is a relatively stable feeling in people’s lives. The optimal level of happiness is likely to vary across individuals and cultures. The authors also claim that extremely high levels of happiness might not be an ideal goal, and that psychological well-being is even more important.
Kenneth Land et al. [16] argued that the relationship between income and happiness can be described by the happiness–income paradox. Brülde [17] discussed four conceptions of happiness: the cognitive (attitudinal) view, the hedonistic view, the mood view (or emotional state theory), and the hybrid view. Happiness is a major manifestation and a determinant of optimal functioning, since we are hard-wired to feel good when functioning well [18]. Seligman [13] considers hedonistic, often short-term happiness to be momentary happiness. Classic tools for measuring subjective well-being are the Satisfaction With Life Scale (SWLS) written by Diener [19] and the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS) developed by Watson et al. [20]. This tool has been widely used for its comprehensiveness, including high reliability and high internal consistency; in the field of psychology, in particular, it plays an indispensable role.
Quality of life is commonly associated with well-being, happiness, or the provision of amenities [21], but this does not mean that the concepts of happiness, quality of life, and well-being are equivalent. Jonathan Phillips et al. [22] suggest that the various concepts people use to understand the mind are fundamentally different from each other. Some of these concepts do indeed serve simply to identify a particular mental state, but others allow for evaluative judgments. Quality of life can be assessed according to the subjective and objective dimensions [23]. The subjective factor is also referred to as well-being, and the objective factor is also referred to as quality of place. In the most general terms, happiness relates to how well individuals are doing in life, including social, health, material, and subjective dimensions of well-being [24]. In his book, Diener [25] observes that “happiness is a process, not a place”. That is, happiness often comes from doing rather than having. We adapt to good things and need to move on to new goals to continue to enjoy life to the fullest. Murgaš, F. et al. [21] conceptualize quality of life as a holistic assessment of how good an individual’s life is according to him/herself. This article agrees with his views. As he comments in his article,” if well-being were the same as quality of life, what would ill-being be?”. In general, happiness, quality of life, and well-being are definitions that share conceptual similarities but have their own focus, and cannot be compared to each other.
Subjective Well-Being is a concept related to happiness, often abbreviated as SWB. Diener et al. [26] argued that SWB reflects an overall evaluation of the quality of a person’s life from her or his own perspective. Happiness is an individual’s overall assessment of their objective state based on self-determined standards, and the benefits of high SWB include health, longevity, citizenship, and social relationships [27]. As the name suggests, “subjective” qualifies this definition, i.e., subjective well-being describes how one evaluates one’s life from one’s own perspective. Theories of SWB can be classified into three types: (1) biological/temperament theories, (2) satisfaction of goals theories, and (3) mental state theories [26]. In this article, we contend that SWB cannot and should not be equated with happiness. As a subjective feeling, SWB is an aspect of happiness that expresses what people think of their lives.
Philosophers have debated the definition of happiness for millennia and no consensus has been reached: happiness remains elusive. In this article, we understand happiness as a degree of satisfaction with our existing lives. It is both satisfaction with one’s subjective state of existence and the objective conditions around us. Personal growth, meaningful friendships, beautiful surroundings, social justice, and career achievements all contribute to our happiness. Happiness is a subjective feeling, but it is also influenced by objective conditions. Happiness varies from person to person and there is no neat and uniform standard. Happiness is a state that can be observed and evaluated. Some people feel that they are living happily, but to others it may not seem so. Happiness is a stable, long-term state; transient and fleeting happiness is not happiness in the true sense of the word. Individual happiness is closely linked to social and national development. Only when society is stable and the country is prosperous can individual happiness be realized; at the same time, the individual’s pursuit of happiness must be in line with the direction of social and national development, which is also reflected in this study. Our definition of happiness is not perfect, but it still aims to provide a basic direction for our research.

2.2. Happiness Studies in China

The term happiness does not exist in traditional Chinese culture and has only been used as a term in recent times. However, traditional Chinese culture contains ideas about happiness, mostly referring to good fortune and luck. The earliest reference to the traditional Chinese idea of happiness can be traced back to the Five Blessings in the Shang Shu·Hong Fan, these are five different interlinked aspects of being blessed, recording the general assessment of the good life of the people. Confucianism and Taoism express their understanding of happiness in the form of “joy”. The four types of happiness in contemporary China are collective happiness, harmonious happiness, virtuous happiness, and the people’s happiness [28]. In the Chinese Dictionary, the meaning of “happiness” is: (1) to pray for good fortune; (2) a situation and life that make one feel good; (3) life, situation, etc., that is satisfactory. The first contemporary Chinese scholar to talk about happiness was Luo Guojie, who used it as a moral category in his Marxist Ethics. In 1996, Chen’s A Theory of Happiness in Life explained a range of issues related to happiness, suggesting that a career, love, and marriage are all components of happiness, and that there are different realms and levels of happiness. Jiang’s The Road to Happiness-An Ethical Revelation, Happiness and Harmony builds a system of happiness ethics. He argues that happiness, wisdom, virtue, harmony, and grace are the five basic categories. Since the beginning of the 21st century, there has been a wealth of research on happiness in China. In 2004, Sun’s Theory of Happiness discusses the concept, value, laws, and norms of happiness and proposes three laws, three principles, and four rules of happiness. In 2014, Deng’s Theory of Social Happiness focuses on happiness as the ultimate life pursuit, and the general happiness of social members as the ultimate purpose of social development, providing implications and possible paths for the construction of social happiness in China. In 2011, Wan’s What is Happiness explains the basic concept and characteristics of happiness. Since the 18th National Congress, President Xi has put forward a theory of the people’s happiness and a good life, arguing that happiness is all the result of struggle, forming a complete theory of people’s happiness.
Following the introduction of the National Happiness Index (NHI) and the Gross National Happiness Index (GNH) in the Kingdom of Bhutan, Chinese scholars have also conducted research on the subject. The first to propose the concept and calculation method of the National Happiness Index (NHI) were Zhong et al. [29], who argued that there was more to happiness than economic and social development. In 2004, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) conducted a national survey on the happiness index, using a sampling method to extrapolate the overall data from the sample data. A total of 28 indicators, including the social health index, the social welfare index, the social civilization index, and the ecological environment index, were included [30]. In 2005, Cheng Guodong suggested that the national happiness accounting index system should be constructed from six aspects: political freedom, economic opportunities, social opportunities, security and safety, cultural values, and environmental protection. In 2003, Xing Zhanjun compiled the Chinese People’s Subjective Well-being Scale (SWBSCS), which consists of forty items and ten subscales including experiences of satisfaction and sufficiency, experiences of mental health, etc. Lu Luo [31], a researcher in Taiwan, China, developed the Chinese Happiness Inventory (CHI). The scale contains 48 items that measure dimensions such as positive affect, lack of negative affect, life satisfaction, and factors related to Chinese culture.
In January 2022, Tsinghua University released the first ever People’s Happiness Index Research Report [32]. The report states that, overall, China’s national happiness index continues to improve as a whole, with the scores of each section tending to be balanced as it develops and changes over time. The team summarized happiness specifically as “having a healthy physical and mental state and sound basic security supported by the social environment and habitat, maintaining harmonious family relationships and positive social relationships, having a relatively free degree of control and choice over one’s life, while having expectations of growth and improvement, and being able to further integrate personal values with society.” The study constructed a base indicator bank of happiness measures containing 185 indicator items, 55% of which were derived from statistical data, and 45% from new types of data. The framework model of the indicator system contains the three circles of personal family, social life, and human living environment, as well as three levels of needs: survival needs, enjoyment needs, and development needs, involving nine areas and 27 indicators. The report points out that, after 2006, the growth rate of the total score of the National Happiness Index has been lower than the growth rate of Gross Domestic Product, which means that the economic level is no longer the most crucial factor in determining people’s happiness. This report is in line with the findings of Professor Ruut Veenhoven of Erasmus University in the Netherlands. According to three surveys conducted by Professor Ruut Veenhoven on China’s happiness index, China’s national happiness index was 6.64 (on a scale of 1–10) in 1990, rising to 7.08 in 1995, but falling to 6.60 in 2001.

2.3. A Study of the Happiness of Chinese University Students

Student happiness emerges very early in life and continues developing throughout their years at school [33]. It is particularly important for university students’ happiness to be investigated, as this is a key developmental life stage. University students in their youth are subject to academic pressures, life pressures, and employment pressures, and their happiness is affected by a variety of factors. Regarding the factors that influence university students’ happiness, scholars have conducted research from different perspectives and produced rich research results.
The first major achievement was the compilation of the happiness scale for university students. In 1996, Duan [34] revised the General Happiness Scale developed by Fazio, deleting items that were not suitable for Chinese university students and adding some new items, and the revised scale consisted of 48 items. In 2000, Yan et al. [35] revised the Subjective Happiness Scale based on the International University Survey Scale and applied it to university students for measurement research. Li and Zhao [36] used Campbell’s Happiness Inventory to measure the happiness of Chinese university students. Ji and Li [37] developed the Subjective Happiness Scale for College Students. In 2009, Miao compiled the Multiple Happiness Questionnaire (MHQ), which covers one index (happiness index), two modules (psychological well-being and subjective well-being), and nine dimensions (positive affect, negative affect, life satisfaction, life vitality, health concerns, friendly relationships, personality growth, altruistic behavior, and self-worth).
The second part of the research comprises articles examining the happiness of Chinese university students. Miao [38] used the home-made Multiple Happiness Questionnaire (MHQ) to survey university students and secondary school students in six universities in Nanjing and Nanchang, China. The results showed that college students had a good level of happiness, with 63.4% of them being moderately happy or above. The majority of contemporary college students have positive levels of happiness. Wang [9] used the Index of Well-Being (Index of Well-Being, Campbell et al., 1976) and health-promoting lifestyle profile-II (HPLP-II) to measure college students in higher education institutions. The results showed that the mean value of students’ Campbell happiness index was (11.23 ± 3.23). The overall happiness level of university students was high. Chen [39] used a self-administered questionnaire on university students’ happiness to investigate the happiness of university students in Hunan. The results showed that 28.9% of college students thought they were very happy; 36.7% felt they were relatively happy; 21.5% had a vague understanding of happiness; and 12.9% thought they were unhappy. The authors explored the current situation of college students’ perceptions of happiness and the influencing factors, and provided suggestions for improving college students’ happiness. Qi [40] investigated college students’ views of happiness in Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications by means of an open-ended questionnaire. She believed that post-1990s college students’ perceptions of happiness are determined on an emotional level rather than a rational one. Among the objective influencing factors, college students are most concerned about the interpersonal factors. At the same time, college students put more emphasis on the influence of subjective factors on their perceptions of happiness, paying particular attention to the issue of mindset. Miao et al. [41] used the home-made Multiple Happiness Questionnaire (MHQ) to investigate the happiness indices of postgraduate and university students. The survey found that the mean happiness index score of postgraduates was 6.38 ± 1.20. In total, 75.9% of the respondents scored more than 5, and postgraduates had a higher level of happiness. The happiness index of university students was 6.21 ± 1.33, and the level of happiness index of postgraduate students was significantly higher than that of university students. Cao et al. [42] used the subjective well-being scale to investigate the subjective well-being of university students in Ningbo, and the results showed that the subjective well-being of university students was at a moderate to high level (11.06 ± 1.91). Liu [43] used the Happiness Index Scale and conducted a survey on the subjective well-being of college students in Shanxi. The subjective well-being index score of university students was (1.037 ± 2.170) (with a score range of 2.1–14.7), indicating that university students’ well-being index was above the medium level. Chen et al. [44] used the happiness index scale to conduct a questionnaire survey on university students in Anhui. The results showed that the mean value of college students’ happiness was 10.22 (range 2.1–14.7), with a standard deviation of 2.24, and that college students’ happiness was at an upper-middle level. The happiness of freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors decreases in descending order. Zhu et al. [45] concluded that family still has a significant influence on college students’ happiness, and interpersonal interactions are one of the important mechanisms through which family status affects happiness. Che et al. [46] developed the Questionnaire on College Students’ Perceptions of Happiness and Well-being by synthesizing the information from the Questionnaire on Basic Information of College Students in Higher Education and the International Survey of College Students at Peking University. The results found that college students’ perceptions of happiness are generally diverse; family background has an influence on college students’ happiness, and school education has a positive influence on the formation of general happiness. Geng [47] conducted a survey in five higher education institutions in Anhui Province through a self-administered questionnaire on the subjective well-being of college students in higher education institutions. The results of the survey showed that the students’ overall subjective well-being scores were 9.85 ± 2.84, and the subjective well-being of college students in higher education institutions was at a relatively high level; this was influenced by their own characteristics, their school situation, and family environment factors.

2.4. Factors Influencing the Happiness of University Students

Another area of the research comprises studies of the factors that influence the happiness of university students. Gender is considered a factor that influences the happiness of university students [3]. Female university students are significantly happier than male university students [48]. For university students, school life is closely related to the happiness of university students, and the highest proportion of university students’ happiness is linked to employment and study [39]. A positive relationship revealed that, as students’ happiness increases, their Grade Point Average increases as well [49], meaning that happiness is positively associated with academic success [50]. During the COVID-19 epidemic, scholars explored the impact of students’ social media use on their happiness and academic performance [51]. Scholars revealed the association of happiness with a preference for mornings or evenings, sleep-related variables, and academic performance in university students [52]. University students’ diets are related to happiness, the amount of fruits and vegetables consumed is positively associated with happiness [53]. As independent individuals, university students’ happiness is influenced by factors such as personal characteristics, the family environment, and social interactions.
University students’ own personalities, interests, academic performance, and family environment are important factors affecting their sense of happiness [47]. Family rituals are significantly and positively related to university students’ happiness [54], while subjective factors, such as the family economic status and socio-economic status, influence happiness evaluations [8]. Age groups, type of occupation, physical activity levels, and place of residence are factors associated with happiness in young people [55]. The spiritual needs of university students also deserve attention. Scholars have determined the spiritual well-being is ranked the highest, followed by psychological, physical, self, and social well-being [2]. Some scholars believe that university students’ happiness is related to a sense of development and security [56]. Post-1990s university students are most concerned about the impact of relationships and their mindset of happiness [40]. Meanwhile, some scholars believe that owning property [57] and political participation [58] play a significant role in influencing youth happiness. To sum up, university students’ happiness is influenced by four types of factors: individual, societal, family, and school, and it is crucial to carry out an exploration of university students’ happiness around the factors corresponding to these four categories.
University students’ happiness is important for personal growth, social development, and family harmony. Based on this overall impression of the happiness state of university students, it is important to study the perception of happiness of Chinese university students in the new era, and analyze the key factors affecting university students’ happiness, in order to explore the possibility of enhancing the happiness of university students. Based on survey data from Beijing universities, we conducted an exploratory study on the happiness status of college students and its influencing factors.

3. Materials and Methods

3.1. Sample

The target population of the study is university students (including postgraduate students and doctoral students) from colleges and universities in Beijing. In July 2021, 939 questionnaires were distributed, and 933 valid questionnaires were recovered, with a valid response rate of 99.3%. The characteristics of the participants are summarized in Table 1. In Table 1, M and SD are the mean value and standard deviation, respectively. In this study, Pearson Correlation Analysis and Mediating Effect Analysis are used to analyze the influencing factors and interrelationships of university students’ happiness. Additionally, the mediating effect analysis uses Model 4 in the SPSS macro program PROCESS developed by Hayes (2013) [59] to test whether family and school provide two significant mediating pathways.

3.2. Measure

On the basis of collating and referring to the existing literature, this study combined the individual characteristics of contemporary Chinese university students and the factors affecting their happiness. We conducted a survey with college students from different colleges and universities in Beijing, invited relevant professional experts to judge the dimensional indicators and item contents of the questionnaire, and compiled the questionnaire “Investigation and Research on the Happiness Concept of University Students in the Capital”. The questionnaire is scored with a Likert five-scale, whereby 1 means full happiness, 2 means slight happiness, 3 means uncertain, 4 means slight unhappiness, and 5 means complete unhappiness. The study was conducted in July 2021, and university students (including master’s and doctoral students) from different universities in Beijing participated through an online questionnaire. After testing and reliability validity analysis of the data, the items were further revised, any vague and unclear expressions were revised, and the final evaluation and testing were conducted by experts to ensure the accuracy of the questionnaire items and the credibility of the recovered data. Finally, the questionnaire was divided into three parts: (1) basic information about the respondents; (2) basic views and opinions of the respondents on happiness-related issues; (3) a system of influencing factors that affect university students’ happiness, containing 17 factors.

3.3. Data Analysis

In this paper, the Kaiser–Meyer–Olkin (KMO) test and Bartlett’s sphericity test were conducted on the self-administered questionnaire. Bartlett’s sphericity test determines the suitability of Principal Component Analysis between variables based on the relationship between the probability of companionship and the significance level. The KMO test assesses the correlation of variable data based on the relationship between simple and partial correlation coefficients between variables.
According to the analysis results of SPSS, the KMO test and Bartlett’s sphericity test for the self-administered questionnaire are shown in Table 2. The KMO value of the self-administered questionnaire is 0.939, and through the sphericity test (p < 0.000) the cumulative variance contribution rate is shown to be 77.36%. The results of the KMO test and Bartlett’s sphericity test of the self-administered questionnaire indicate that the questionnaire is suitable for data analysis using Principal Component Analysis.
Principal Component Analysis can reflect the characteristics and patterns of the data with as little information as possible. This paper uses the Principal Component Analysis method to dimensional reduction analysis the influence factors of happiness. The maximum variance method of the orthogonal rotation axis method was used to analyze and process the questionnaire data, delete the factor components less than 0.7, and then obtain the four main factors of individual, societal, family, and school. In addition, Exploratory Factor Analysis (EFA) was performed on the data and the items with a factor load of less than 0.52 were deleted. Each observation item of the questionnaire can be well distributed on its own factor load, as shown in Table 3. Among these factors, the individual factor includes 6 measurement items, the societal factor includes 4 measurement items, the family factor includes 4 measurement items, and the school factor includes 3 measurement items, meeting the study expectations.
In this paper, reliability analysis is conducted for the overall questionnaire, the individual factor, the family factor, the societal factor, and the school factor, based on the results of the PCA and EFA analyses of the self-administered questionnaire. The Cronbach coefficient is currently the most widely used confidence evaluation method. Internal consistency reliability performance is acceptable when the Cronbach coefficient is greater than 0.6, “moderate” when placed between 0.66 and 0.70, “good” when placed between 0.71 and 0.80, and “excellent” when greater than 0.8. The results of the reliability test of the self-administered questionnaire are shown in Table 4.

4. Results

According to the results of the above analysis, the factors affecting happiness can be divided into four dimensions: individual, societal, family, and school. The mean of all factor scores of each dimension is used to represent the scores of the four dimensions, and the correlation between the four dimensions and happiness is analyzed using the Pearson Correlation Analysis method. The mean, standard deviation, and correlation coefficient of each variable are shown in Table 5. According to the descriptive statistics in Table 5, the individual dimension is ranked as the most noteworthy (M = 2.028, SD = 1.07), while the societal dimension is rated the lowest (M = 1.647, SD = 0.714). In addition, the results of the correlation analysis in the table show that the individual, family, school, and societal all show a significant positive relationship with happiness. Among them, the correlations of individual, societal, and school with happiness are not significantly different, having values of (r = 0.334, p < 0.01), (r = 0.351, p < 0.01), and (r = 0.365, p < 0.01), respectively. The correlation between family and happiness is the lowest (r = 0.275, p < 0.01).
It is worth noting that Table 5 also shows a strong correlation between the four dimensions. Society, as the general environment in which individuals live, can directly affect people’s subjective well-being. However, as a university student, social contact in actual life is influenced to some extent by family and school, and it can be presumed that family and school play a mediating role in the relationship between society and individual happiness. To test whether family and school provide two significant mediating pathways, this paper uses Model 4 in the SPSS macro program PROCESS proposed by Hayes [59] to analyze the mediating effects of family and school. The results of the analysis are shown in Table 6: under the control of gender and age, the societal dimension is able to influence the individual dimension (β = 0.83, p < 0.001), the family dimension (β = 0.67, p < 0.001), and the school dimension (β = 0.69, p < 0.001) significantly and positively. When the societal dimension, family dimension, and school dimension jointly affect the individual dimension, the effect of the societal dimension on the individual dimension decreases (β = 0.40, p < 0.001) but is still significant, indicating a significant mediating role of family and school between the societal dimension and the individual dimension.
The regression-based bootstrap mediation method was further used to analyze the four dimensions, and the results are shown in Table 7 and Figure 1. According to the results of the mediation effect test shown in Table 7 and Figure 1, the total effect value of the societal-to-individual dimension is 0.832, and there is a significant mediating effect of family and school between the societal and individual dimensions. With a mediating effect value of 0.435, the 95% CI is [0.37, 0.50], accounting for 52.3% of the total societal-to-individual effect. The effect of societal on the individual consists of three effect pathways: the first path is the direct effect, societal → individual. The effect value is 0.397 and the 95% CI is [0.34, 0.46], accounting for 52.3% of the total effect. The second path is the family-mediated effect, societal → family → individual. The effect value is 0.303 and the 95% CI is [0.25, 0.36], accounting for 36.4% of the total effect. The third path is the school-mediated effect, societal → school → individual. The effect value is 0.132 and the 95% CI is [0.088, 0.19], accounting for 15.9% of the total effect.

5. Discussion and Conclusions

Discussing the mainly influential factors of university students’ happiness has great significance in promoting the all-round development of the university students. In this study, the self-administered questionnaire was developed to investigate the influence of factors on the happiness of university students, which includes 17 factors. The questionnaire considers the factors of university students themselves, and other factors in their lives. According the research data, Principal Component Analysis was used to reduce the dimensionality of the self-administered questionnaire. The analysis revealed that the 17 factors affecting the questionnaire could be divided into four dimensions: individual dimension, family dimension, societal dimension, and school dimension. Pearson Correlation Analysis method was used to reveal the influence of each dimension on the happiness of university students. The four dimensions were further analyzed using the Mediating Effect Analysis method; the study found that family dimensions and school dimensions had a significant mediating effect between societal dimensions and individual dimensions.
Our findings confirm that the factors related to the individual dimension have a significant positive effect on university students’ happiness, and the societal dimension, family dimension, and school dimension also have a significant positive relationship with happiness. University students who have a positive emotion about life are more likely to make a positive assessment of the state of their life, and are more likely to be happy. Positive emotions improve personal psychological functioning, providing effective protection for individuals, and enhance personal happiness, while reducing negative emotions [60]. In the individual dimension, factors such as working hard, being physically healthy, valuing friendship, helping others, and having a successful career are all positive emotional options that contribute to the happiness of university students.
A strong positive correlation was found between the four factors of the individual dimension, the family dimension, the societal dimension, and the school dimension. The mediating effect test revealed that the family dimension and the school dimension have a significant mediating effect between the societal dimension and the individual dimension. First, the societal dimension has a direct effect on the individual dimension. A person is both an individual and a social being. University students’ participation in social practices, social activities, internship work, public volunteering and other social interactions has a direct impact on their personal state. A variety of social activities expand the horizons of university students and affirm their social values, and active social participation is beneficial to improving one’s sense of happiness. Secondly, the societal dimension has an indirect effect on the individual dimension by affecting the family. The family is the basic component unit of society: the development of society affects the family environment, and individuals living in the family are indirectly influenced by society. For example, the employment, income, and property of family members, as well as the prices, department products, and cultural products, are all governed by the level of social development, which has an impact on the life and happiness of individuals. Finally, the societal dimension has an indirect effect on the individual dimension by influencing schools. The society is the premise of the general environment for the development of schools, and the school is the main place of study and life for university students. The policies, documents, and regulations of the society will influence the direction of the school and, in turn, the lives of individuals. For example, employers hold job fairs through schools to facilitate student employment, the country provides scholarships and student loans for poor students to help them complete their studies, and entrepreneurial companies donate funds to the school to build a school building. Various information sources, such as the internet, Instagram, Twitter and other online social networks, have the same influence on students. Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 epidemic, social control measures have affected the management of students in schools; for instance, when schools are closed for disease-management, this affects the happiness of university students.
University students are the future of the country. Improving the happiness of university students benefits the development of country. To improve the happiness of university students, this research provides some suggestions from different dimensions. In the individual dimension, university students should establish a scientific view of happiness, which leads to cultivating optimistic psychological qualities. The scientific view of happiness and the optimistic psychological quality make positive, affirmative perceptions and evaluations of a student’s own state of life. In the family dimension, family is the first classroom of life and parents are the first teachers of their children. Parents should positively guide students to face the difficulties in life, and pay attention to building a happy atmosphere in family life. In the school dimension, school is one of the most important venues for student education. School should develop a comprehensive education system that leads to the comprehensive development of the students. Furthermore, school should offer courses which relate to happiness education, revealing the essence of happiness and helping students form the correct concept of happiness. In the societal dimension, society is a completely new environment for university students. Society should provide more internship opportunities for university students, which benefits students by broadening their horizons and abilities, enriching social experience, and enriching lives. At the same time, participation in social activities helps them to understand social issues correctly and affirm the value of university students.
This study has some limitations. For example, no discernment of demographic variables is analyzed to explore the extent to which variables such as grade level, whether a participant is an only child, and whether or not the family is a single-parent household have an impact on happiness. More comprehensive and clear hypotheses, analyses, and studies are needed in subsequent studies to explore whether demographic variables have a relevant effect on university students’ happiness. Moreover, our analysis relied mainly on self-reported data, which may lead to reliance on self-awareness and reporting bias; future research could make more use of recognized happiness scales and other tests of university students’ happiness.

Author Contributions

C.L., writing—original draft; J.S., data analysis. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.


This research received no external funding.

Institutional Review Board Statement

Not applicable.

Informed Consent Statement

Not applicable.

Data Availability Statement

Not applicable.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


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Figure 1. A model of mediation between the family dimension and the school dimension between the societal dimension and the individual dimension.
Figure 1. A model of mediation between the family dimension and the school dimension between the societal dimension and the individual dimension.
Sustainability 14 16057 g001
Table 1. Characteristics of participants.
Table 1. Characteristics of participants.
Gender 121.540.50
Age 131.040.20
School Type 121.530.50
    Undergraduate Schools43646.7%
    Vocational colleges49753.3%
School Category 172.41.78
    Agricultural and forestry192.0%
    Politics and Law12113.0%
Student Identity 131.120.38
Table 2. KMO and Bartlett’s test.
Table 2. KMO and Bartlett’s test.
Kaiser–Meyer–Olkin Measure of Sampling Adequacy0.939
Bartlett’ s Test of SphericityApprox. Chi-Square13,793
Table 3. Rotated component matrix.
Table 3. Rotated component matrix.
A3 I am in a good place in my life0.813
A6 I am satisfied with my current state0.799
A4 I believe my presence has value0.754
A1 I am always fit and healthy0.730
A5 I can do well in my own affairs, whether it’s in school or in life0.559
A2 Striving to make me feel fulfilled0.537
B2 Participate in social practice or internship 0.824
B3 Harmonious interpersonal relationships 0.817
B4 Social Development Harmony 0.767
B1 prosperous and strong nation 0.614
C1 Time with family is happy 0.795
C3 Asking family for help with any difficulties 0.782
C2 Family members unite and love 0.643
C4 Good qualities in family members 0.581
D2 Comprehensive and integrated professional courses 0.761
D1 Classmates and friends are very friendly 0.731
D3 Teachers are conscientious and responsible 0.616
Extraction Method: principal component analysis. Rotation Method: varimax with Kaiser Normalization.
Table 4. Reliability test.
Table 4. Reliability test.
ScaleCronbach’s α CoefficientNumber of Items
Table 5. Mean, standard deviation, and correlation analysis of each variable (N = 933).
Table 5. Mean, standard deviation, and correlation analysis of each variable (N = 933).
1. Individual2.0280.835-
2. Societal1.6470.7140.705 **-
3. Family1.8910.7770.742 **0.608 **-
4. School1.6820.7100.686 **0.690 **0.687 **-
5. Happiness1.4300.5550.334 **0.351 **0.275 **0.365 **-
** Correlation is significant at the <0.01 level.
Table 6. Mediating effects detection of family dimension and school dimension.
Table 6. Mediating effects detection of family dimension and school dimension.
Regression EquationFitting IndexRegression Coefficient Significance
Dependent VariableIndependent VariableRR2Fβt
IndividualGender0.710.51316.21 ***0.143.55 ***
Societal0.834.20 ***
FamilyGender0.610.37185.75 ***0.112.81 **
Societal0.674.26 ***
SchoolGender0.690.48282.07 ***0.0329.06
Societal0.6929.06 ***
IndividualGender0.820.67371.88 ***0.082.51 **
Societal0.4012.50 ***
Family0.4515.62 ***
School0.195.51 ***
** Correlation is significant at the <0.01 level; *** Correlation is significant at the <0.001 level.
Table 7. Intermediary effect analysis.
Table 7. Intermediary effect analysis.
EffectBootSE95% CIEffect Amount
Direct effect0.3970.032[0.34, 0.46]47.7%
Societal → family → individual0.3030.029[0.25, 0.36]36.4%
Societal → school → individual0.1320.028[0.088, 0.19]15.9%
Total intermediary effect0.4350.033[0.37, 0.50]52.3%
Total effect0.8320.027[0.78, 0.89]
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Liang, C.; Sun, J. A Study of the Happiness of Chinese University Students and Its Influencing Factors—A Case Study of Beijing Universities. Sustainability 2022, 14, 16057.

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Liang C, Sun J. A Study of the Happiness of Chinese University Students and Its Influencing Factors—A Case Study of Beijing Universities. Sustainability. 2022; 14(23):16057.

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Liang, Chenchen, and Jingdong Sun. 2022. "A Study of the Happiness of Chinese University Students and Its Influencing Factors—A Case Study of Beijing Universities" Sustainability 14, no. 23: 16057.

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