Everybody wants to be happy. It is especially important for children and adolescents to be happy. By looking at the factors that go into happiness, and learning how to get the maximum happiness, we can ensure that our youth is both happy and successful. Children spend much of their time at school, so it is important for educators to know what makes them happy. It is also important to know if happiness creates success, or if success creates happiness. By knowing this, we can get the most out of educating our youth, and we can create well-adjusted adults in the long run.
What Makes a Person Happy
Studies have repeatedly shown that children get the most happiness from relationships with others. Szwarc noted that regardless of age or gender, the importance of family relations is the crucial contributor to children’s subjective well-being (Szwarc, 2016.) When adolescents aged eight through eighteen were asked about their own happiness, “They reported that they look to material things when they think it will help them build strong relationships with admired individuals.” (Chapin, 2009.) By understanding that children get the most happiness from relationships, especially those between family, we can better understand how to ensure their emotional well-being. Parents who understand that children would rather have a close relationship with them than having material objects, will likely have happier children.
While family relationships are repeatedly noted to be the most significant factor contributing to happiness, other positive factors are friends, school, exercise and meals with family (Lambert, Fleming, Ameratunga, Robinson, Crengle, Sheridan, & Merry, 2014). According to Lambert et al. (2014) the negative factors associated with happiness are “witnessing yelling and hitting of children and adults at home, ethnic discrimination, frequent marijuana use, sexual abuse, frequent alcohol use and having a long-term health condition that interfered with the participant’s life,” (Lambert et al., 2014). When we understand what makes children and adolescents not only happy, but unhappy, we can help them to achieve a more positive outlook on life. This should result in greater happiness not only as children, but as adults.
While happiness is often thought of as something a person has control over, there is evidence to suggest that genetics play a part in it as well. According to Hoy, Suldo, and Mendez, parents with high life satisfaction tend to have children with high life satisfaction. “The consistency of results is in line with Lyubomirsky et al.’s (2005) notion that subjective well-being is in part heritable” (Hoy, Suldo, & Mendez, n.d.) If parents have no other contributing factors to their own unhappiness, it is possible that they pass down temperament traits that would contribute to their children’s unhappiness.
Another factor contributing to happiness is the socio-economic factor. There is a modest correlation between affluent nations and happier citizens. This limited association could be due to the differing perceptions of wealth (Kassin, Fein, & Markus, 2013.) According to “Well-rounded children set for happiest futures” developing social and emotional, as well as cognitive skills “was vital in helping children break inter-generational cycles of disadvantage”. (Well-rounded children set for happiest futures, 2015). By breaking this cycle, children will have improved social mobility, and unlock high-status and well-paid jobs, contributing to better future happiness.
It has been shown that adolescents from “poorer households tended to exhibit worse self-control and emotional health than wealthier households on average,” (Well-rounded children set for happiest futures, 2015). In Great Britain, the Early Intervention Foundation set guidelines for ensuring that parents and teachers learn to help develop the social and emotional skills necessary for children to achieve better health and well-being, ultimately increasing happiness.
Happiness in School
Children spend much of their time in school, so it is important to look at their attitudes towards school to see if it contributes to their happiness, or is a detriment. “A good family connection was strongly associated with reports of being happy, followed by connection to school, even when all other factors thought to be related to wellbeing were included,” (Lambert, et al., 2014). Because school is so important to a child’s happiness and well-being, we need to be sure that their experience is beneficial. On international academic school assessments, Finnish students have performed remarkably well (Uusitalo-Malmivaara, n.d.). When the Finnish students were given surveys to understand their overall happiness, “Most of the respondents of the present study felt happy both globally and in school, and the boys and the girls were equally happy in both measures,” (Uusitalo-Malmivaara, n.d.).
Adolescents are most satisfied with the domain of family life. They give much worse marks to school life, especially among twelve-year-old children (Szwarc, 2016). “Knowing that children and adolescents recognize that people and pets contribute to their happiness to a significant degree, educators may want to develop programs to help children build healthy relationships with various admired others,” (Chaplin, 2009).
Research has shown that when adolescents accomplish and achieve things, they are happier. According to Uusitalo-Malmivaara, Finnish students have an achievement-focused attitude, which is likely a key contributing factor in their measurement of happiness (Uusitalo-Malmivaara, n.d.). A study by Harter in 1974 showed that children smiled more when they solved difficult problems “indicating that the greatest gratification is derived from the solution of the most challenging problems,” (Harter, 1974). Since the study showed that children derived greater satisfaction when solving more difficult anagrams, as opposed to easier ones, the success of achievement is indicated as a factor in happiness among adolescents.
Sports and Physical Activities
In a study by Holder and Klassen, it was determined that having children engaged in sports and other physical activities increased their general happiness. “Perhaps the relation between activity and happiness in children is attributable to the established benefits of physical activity,” (Holder & Klassen, n.d.). They go on to point out that physical activity reduces tiredness and increases energy. It also lowers anxiety levels and symptoms of depression. Holder noted that “anxiety and neuroticism were negatively related to life satisfaction in children,” (Holder & Klassen, n.d.). It was also noted that activity is positively correlated with extraversion and that extraversion was positively related to life satisfaction.
Sports also give children a sense of community and teamwork. Since sports require that children work together, they build positive relationships with other children and adults. “children and adolescents ages eight to eighteen consistently reported that they look to their family, friends, coaches and teachers to find happiness, not necessarily to material possessions,” (Chaplin, 2009). In order to ensure children’s happiness, it is important to foster healthy and safe relationships with them. “Overall, the present results confirm safe social relations as a primary factor underlying children’s happiness,” (Uusitalo-Malmivaara, n.d).
Since it has been shown that the most important factor that contributes to happiness in children are relationships, especially those with family, we have a better chance of ensuring children’s happiness in general. While we don’t have much control in genetics, we can reduce some of the negative temperament traits of anxiety by having children engage in physical activities and sports. We can also improve the negative effects of a poorer economic condition by improving emotional growth among those children that need it.
Educators and parents should learn to recognize when children need help in developing social and emotional skills so that they can be happier not only as children, but as they grow into adulthood. This gives them the best chance at being happy and successful throughout their life.
Chaplin, L. (2009). Please May I Have a Bike? Better Yet, May I Have a Hug? An Examination of Children’s and Adolescents’ Happiness. Journal Of Happiness Studies, 10(5), 541-562. doi:10.1007/s10902-008-9108-3
Harter, S. (1974). Pleasure derived by children from cognitive challenge and mastery. Child Development, 45(3), 661-669.
Holder, M., & Klassen, A. (n.d). Temperament and Happiness in Children. Journal Of Happiness Studies, 11(4), 419-439.
Hoy, B., Suldo, S., & Mendez, L. (n.d). Links Between Parents’ and Children’s Levels of Gratitude, Life Satisfaction, and Hope. Journal Of Happiness Studies, 14(4), 1343-1361.
Kassin, S., Fein, S., & Markus, H.R., (2013). Hague, J.D. (Ed.), Social Psychology (pp.22-51). Retrieved from http://gcumedia.com/digital resources/cengage/2013/social- psychology_ebook_9e.php
Lambert, M., Fleming, T., Ameratunga, S., Robinson, E., Crengle, S., Sheridan, J., & … Merry, S. (2014). Looking on the bright side: An assessment of factors associated with adolescents’ happiness. Advances In Mental Health, 12(2), 101-109. doi:10.5172/jamh.2014.12.2.101
Szwarc, K. (2016). WHERE DO THE HAPPIEST CHILDREN LIVE? THE SWB OF SCHOOL CHILDREN IN EUROPE. Research Papers Of The Wroclaw University Of Economics / Prace Naukowe Uniwersytetu Ekonomicznego We Wroclawiu, (435), 112-124. doi:10.15611/pn.2016.435.07
Uusitalo-Malmivaara, L. (n.d). Global and School-Related Happiness in Finnish Children. Journal Of Happiness Studies, 13(4), 601-619.
Well-rounded children set for happiest futures. (2015). Education Journal, (228), 10.