An Investigation of Happiness and Gratitude Among Music Majors

Christian Bernhard The State University of New York at Fredonia


The following summarizes a research poster shared at the 2019 Colloquium for Instrumental Music Teacher Educators


Experts from the field of positive psychology have suggested that gratitude, meaning, engagement and, to some extent, pleasure, can help university students manage stress and prevent burnout (e.g., Emmons, 2007; Seligman, 2011). Peterson, Park, and Seligman (2005) defined pleasure as an immediate, hedonistic pursuit of positive sensation, meaning as long-term life purpose, and engagement as absorption in psychological flow. McCullough, Emmons, and Tsang (2002) found gratitude, or thankfulness, to be positively related to optimism and life satisfaction, while negatively related to depression, anxiety, materialism, and envy.

The primary purpose of the current study was to compare perceived happiness (pleasure, meaning, and engagement) and gratitude levels of university music majors by year in school (freshman, sophomore, junior, senior, or graduate) and major (music education or non-music education). The secondary purpose was to examine relationships among perceived happiness, gratitude, and academic/personal variables (number of credits and hours per week of classes, ensembles, homework, practice, exercise, sleep, work, and socializing). Participants for the study were 257 music majors at a public university school of music (47.07 percent of 546 potential respondents). Gratitude was measured using McCullough, Emmons, and Tsang’s (2002) Gratitude Questionnaire-Six Item Form (Table 1), happiness was measured using Peterson, Park, and Seligman’s (2005) Orientation to Happiness (Table 2), and academic/personal variables were measured using a researcher-constructed adaptation of Hamann’s (1986) Demographic Data Form (DDF) (Table 5).


Table 1

The Gratitude Questionnaire-Six Item Form (GQ-6)



1 = strongly disagree   2 = disagree   3 = slightly disagree   4 = neutral   5 = slightly agree                                

6 = agree   7 = strongly agree


1. I have so much in life to be thankful for. 

2. If I had to list everything that I felt grateful for, it would be a very long list. 

3. When I look at the world, I don’t see much to be grateful for.* 

4. I am grateful to a wide variety of people. 

5. As I get older I find myself more able to appreciate the people, events, and situations that have been part of my life history. 

6. Long amounts of time can go by before I feel grateful to something or someone.* 


Scoring Instructions: 

1. Add your scores for items 1, 2, 4, and 5. 

2. Reverse your scores for items 3 and 6. That is, if you scored a "7," give yourself a "1," if you scored a "6," give yourself a "2," etc. 

3. Add the reversed scores for items 3 and 6 to the total from Step 1. This is your total GQ-6 score. This number should be between 6 and 42.  



Table 2


Orientation to Happiness (Pleasure, Meaning, and Engagement)


1 = not at all like me 2 = a little like me 3 = moderately like me 4 = quite a bit like me                               

5 = very much like me


1. Regardless of what I am doing, time passes very quickly (E). 

2. My life serves a higher purpose (M).

3. Life is too short to postpone the pleasures it can provide (P). 

4. I seek out situations that challenge my skills and abilities (E). 

5. In choosing what to do, I always take into account whether it will benefit other people (M). 

6. Whether at work or play, I am usually "in a zone" and not conscious of myself (E). 

7. I am always very absorbed in what I do (E).

8. I go out of my way to feel euphoric (P). 

9. In choosing what to do, I always take into account whether I can lose myself in it (E). 

10. I am rarely distracted by what is going on around me (E). 

11. I have a responsibility to make the world a better place (M).

12. My life has a lasting meaning (M).

13. In choosing what to do, I always take into account whether it will be pleasurable (P). 

14. What I do matters to society (M). 

15. I agree with this statement: "Life is short - eat dessert first" (P). 

16. I love to do things that excite my senses (P). 

17. I have spent a lot of time thinking about what life means and how I fit into its big picture (M). 

18. For me, the good life is the pleasurable life (P). 



Collectively, mean scores for pleasure and gratitude were comparable to university students in previous studies (e.g., Kashdan, Mishra, Breen, & Froh 2009; McCullough, Emmons, & Tsang, 2002). Collective mean scores for engagement were lower than comparable studies, but were higher for meaning (e.g., Park, Peterson, & Ruch, 2009; Peterson, Park, & Seligman, 2005). Results of multivariate and univariate analyses of variance revealed that, while no significant differences in gratitude were reported by year in school, sophomores and juniors reported significantly higher levels of pleasure and lower levels of meaning and engagement than freshmen, seniors, or graduate students (Table 3). While no significant differences in meaning or engagement were reported based on major, music education majors reported significantly higher levels of gratitude and lower levels of pleasure than non-music education majors (Table 4). Moderate positive correlations were observed among pleasure, meaning, engagement, gratitude, and reported hours of sleep (Table 6).


Table 3

Means and Standard Deviations for Meaning, Pleasure, Engagement, and Gratitude by Year in School 



                     N        ME Mean/SD     PL Mean/SD     EN Mean/SD       GR Mean/SD          



Freshman      74      3.84/.10             3.36/.09             3.26/.08               34.78/.67                     


Sophomore   48      3.67/.12              3.53/.11             2.91/.10               35.31/.81


Junior           65      3.69/.10              3.64/.10             3.02/.09               32.89/.70


Senior           63      3.96/.11              2.89/.10             3.13/.09               34.63/.74


Graduate        7      4.11/.26              3.39/.25             3.22/.22               37.33/1.81


Total           257      3.84/.05              3.31/.05             3.09/.04               34.57/.36



Table 4

Means and Standard Deviations for Meaning, Pleasure, Engagement, and Gratitude by Major 



                     N        ME Mean/SD     PL Mean/SD     EN Mean/SD       GR Mean/SD          



Music           155     3.89/.07              3.18/.07            3.18/.06               35.62/.48



Non-Music  102      3.77/.08             3.44/.08            2.99/.07               33.47/.55



Total             257     3.84/.05              3.31/.05            3.09/.04               34.57/.36



Table 5

Means and Standard Deviations for Demographic Data Form (DDF) Variables (N = 257) 



                                                                                    Mean                           SD



Number of credits per semester                                  17.09                           3.56                     


Hours of classes per week                                          17.83                           8.79


Hours of ensembles per week                                       5.08                           3.69


Hours of homework per week                                      8.58                           6.49


Hours of practice per week                                           9.07                           5.91


Hours of exercise per week                                          2.78                           3.18


Hours of sleep per week                                             45.31                           8.11


Hours of work per week                                               4.82                           7.24


Hours of relaxation per week                                     14.03                         10.06               



Table 6

Positive Relationships Among Variables (N = 257) 



Variables                                                                     Correlation Coefficient



ME – EN                                                                                 .46*


GR – Hours of Sleep                                                               .38*


ME – Hours of Sleep                                                              .36*


ME – PL                                                                                 .34*


ME – GR                                                                                .30*


 *< .01




While pursuits of pleasure can be initially helpful in overcoming feelings of stress and burnout, they are typically only a small part of deep happiness. Practices related to gratitude, meaning, and engagement, while often more challenging, can offer better opportunities for connection and positive experience. Music education majors in this study reported lower levels of pleasure and higher levels of gratitude than non-music education majors, perhaps indicating some sort of connection between the teaching profession and life satisfaction. Further examination should be pursued to determine why sophomores and juniors reported lower levels of happiness than freshmen, seniors, and graduate students. Perhaps there is a challenging point in undergraduate music study, when the excitement of freshman year has worn off, and a light at the end of the tunnel is still too distant. 

Further study should also be pursued to determine why collective scores for engagement were so low. One possible explanation could be related to the current culture of digital distraction. As Jackson (2009) argues, “The way we live is eroding our capacity for deep, sustained, perceptive attention—the building block of intimacy, wisdom, and cultural progress” (p. 13). However, collective scores for gratitude and meaning were relatively strong, as were positive correlations among happiness, gratitude, and hours of sleep. Further study to examine specific strategies for managing stress would help to clarify these results. Previous work regarding university students suggests that potential exists in healthy attention to sleep, physical movement, and nutrition (e.g., Bernhard, 2005; Rath, 2013), as well as mindfulness and meditation (Barbezat & Bush, 2014; Rogers & Maytan, 2012).  Ultimately, music majors who are able to pursue worthwhile challenges, successfully negotiate distraction, and appreciate the good, are likely to better handle daily stressors and experience greater life satisfaction.   





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