It is class t-shirt season again. Thousands of high school seniors will dress alike (gasp!) for the last several days of school. The Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education predicts that there will be about 3.3 million high school graduates this year. That’s a lot of t-shirts! And a lot of happy people.
Who besides a t-shirt company or a high school student might equate a class t-shirt with happiness? Psychology Today, of course! While the noted psychological journal does not completely connect the dots between t-shirts and happiness, it does point out the relationship between consumer choices, a person’s psychological needs, and their degree of happiness.
Dr. Ryan T. Howell, Ph.D. writes: Based on one of the most prominent theories of motivation and well-being, Self-Determination Theory (SDT; Ryan & Deci, 2000), researchers have begun exploring the types of consumer choices that will satisfy a person’s psychological needs. SDT predicts that a person will be happiest when three basic psychological needs are satisfied: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. A person feels autonomous when his or her actions are freely chosen, self-guided, and internally (as opposed to externally) motivated. A person feels competence when they use their talents and abilities to master a skill or learn a new task. A person feels relatedness and connected to other people when their activities develop supportive relationships and when a person feels understood by others. (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/cant-buy-happiness/201301/can-money-buy-happiness-money-and-need-satisfaction)
The class t-shirt satisfies all three of a graduating senior’s basic psychological needs…sort of. Let’s look at each of the basic needs a little closer:
- Autonomy: “A person feels autonomous when his or her actions are freely chosen, self-guided, and internally (as opposed to externally) motivated.” The class t-shirt could go either way. The t-shirt still has a little bit of its 1960’s devil-may-care, rebel caché, especially at school. But since all the other seniors will probably don the class shirt, there are some external forces ta play here. It’s a toss up.
- Competence: “A person feels competence when they use their talents and abilities to master a skill or learn a new task.” Competence is the corner stone of high school graduation. The talents and abilities of each graduate are tested. The class shirt signifies mastery.
- Relatedness: “A person feels relatedness and connected to other people when their activities develop supportive relationships and when a person feels understood by others.” There are few things in a the average person’s life that feel more connected that the graduating class (in high school or college). Sharing the experience with peers amplifies its poignancy. This sense of belonging and camaraderie can be hard to come by later in life.
OK. A class t-shirt might not be the answer to the world’s most pressing question, but it will bring your thoughts (and maybe even your heart) back to an important time in your life. How many of you still have the tassel from your mortar board? You probably still have your class shirt, too. Break it out this weekend and put it on. It might just bring a smile to your face.