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La Grande senior Lauren Babcock, left, recently led a project at LHS that used balloons to help rate the happiness of her classmates. LHS senior Noelle Goodenberger, right, was among those who assisted Babcock. (Chris Baxter/The Observer)
La Grande senior Lauren Babcock finds upbeat results during study of happiness
Latex balloons are universal symbols of festivity. La Grande High School senior Lauren Babcock sees something more when she views balloons — windows to the inner spirit of humanity.
Babcock recently used colorful balloons to conduct a study of happiness at LHS titled “Balloons of La Grande: A Portrait of Happiness.”
Babcock was struck by the upbeat results of her study.
“It was surprising. I didn’t expect this many happy people,” Babcock said.
Babcock invited students at LHS to fill out a survey indicating how happy they are. About 45 students agreed, many quite willingly.
Students were asked to rate their level of happiness on a scale from one to 10, with 10 being the happiest rating. Students were then photographed holding the number of balloons equalling their happiness quotient.
“Typically they had seven, eight and nine balloons,” Babcock said.
A handful of students rated their happiness level at a 10.
Relatively few rated their happiness level at four or below. Some of the handful who did surprised Babcock.
“One of the sweetest, most loving people I know, a person who everyone loves, rated her happiness level only a three,” Babcock said.
Babcock found this disconcerting.
“It was really sad to see that someone who tries so hard to make others happy, isn’t happy herself,” she said.
Babcock was inspired to do her project after attending an Oregon Humanities 2012 Idea Lab Summer Institute, a three-day humanities program for Oregon students and teachers.
Babcock began her study at LHS months later with assistance of several people, including LHS senior Noelle Goodenberger and Corianne Owens, who graduated from LHS earlier this school year.
Babcock, Goodenberger and Owens asked students survey questions about happiness.
“It was an interesting way to get to know people. When you hear about other people’s happiness, it makes you more aware of your happiness,’’ Goodenberger said.
Goodenberger was struck by the different ways students answered the question about their overall level of happiness. Some thought about it for two seconds and others took several minutes. The majority of those who took their time gave themselves a high happiness quotient.
“Many (after mulling over the question) realized just how happy they really are,” Goodenberger said.
On the flip side, a few students realized they are sadder than they thought, Goodenberger said.
Another question causing students to pause asked when had they been their happiest.
“Many said it was when they were younger and carefree,” Babcock said.
Students were also asked during the survey if they could have one wish what would it be. Babcock was impressed with how selfless many of the wishes were.
“Their wishes were to help others,” said Babcock, the daughter of Ronald and Michelle Babcock.
Participating students were photographed holding a single balloon with their wish written on it.
Three La Grande High School teachers also participated in Babcock’s project. The teachers conveyed the feeling that happiness is an attitude, a choice instead of something that happens to you.
“I knew this, but after interviewing the teachers, I realized that the teachers realized it more than the students do,” Babcock said.
The LHS senior said that overall the project was an amazing eye-opener.
“It was lot deeper than watching kids walk down the hall,” she said. “You heard them talk about things that really mattered. You gained a little insight into their lives.”
She also learned how much is going on in the lives of her classmates, often unbeknownst to many.
“I always knew that there was stuff boiling beneath the surface of people’s lives, but until I did this I didn’t know how true this is,” Babcock said.