Happy children make happy adults

Feb 25, 2011

Being a 'happy' teenager is linked to increased well-being in adulthood, new research finds.

Much is known about the associations between a troubled childhood and , but little research has examined the affect of a positive childhood. For the first time, researchers from the University of Cambridge and the MRC Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing have analysed the link between a positive adolescence and well-being in midlife.

Using information from 2776 individuals who participated in the 1946 British birth cohort study, the scientists tested associations between having a positive childhood and well-being in adulthood.

A 'positive' childhood was based on teacher evaluations of students' levels of happiness, friendship and energy at the ages of 13 and 15. A student was given a positive point for each of the following four items - whether the child was 'very popular with other children', 'unusually happy and contented', 'makes friends extremely easily' and 'extremely energetic, never tired'. Teachers also rated conduct problems (restlessness, daydreaming, disobedience, lying, etc) and (anxiety, fearfulness, diffidence, avoidance of attention, etc).

The researchers then linked these ratings to the individuals' mental health, work experience, relationships and social activities several decades later. They found that teenagers rated positively by their teachers were significantly more likely than those who received no positive ratings to have higher levels of well-being later in life, including a higher work satisfaction, more frequent contact with family and friends, and more regular engagement in social and leisure activities.

Happy children were also much less likely than others to develop throughout their lives – 60% less likely than young teens that had no positive ratings.

The study not only failed to find a link between being a happy child and an increased likelihood of becoming married, they found that the people who had been happy children were actually more likely to get divorced. One possible factor suggested by the researchers is that happier people have higher self-esteem or self-efficacy and are therefore more willing and able to leave an unhappy marriage.

"The benefits to individuals, families and to society of good , positive relationships and satisfying work are likely to be substantial," said Professor Felicia Huppert, one of the authors of the paper and Director of the Well-being Institute at the University of Cambridge. "The findings support the view that even at this time of great financial hardship, policymakers should prioritise the well-being of our children so they have the best possible start in life."

Dr Marcus Richards, co-author of the paper from the MRC Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing, said: "Most longitudinal studies focus on the negative impact of early mental problems, but the 1946 birth cohort also shows clear and very long-lasting positive consequences of mental well-being in childhood."

For the study, the researchers adjusted for social class of origin, childhood intelligence and education.

Explore further: Report advocates improved police training

More information: The paper 'Do positive children become positive adults? Evidence from a longitudinal birth cohort study' was published in the January print edition of The Journal of Positive Psychology.

Related Stories

Childhood mental health problems blight adult working life

Apr 03, 2008

Mental health problems in childhood blight adult working life, suggests research published ahead of print in Occupational and Environmental Medicine. And problems in working life are associated with mid life depression and an ...

Preventing School Violence Needs to Start at Young Age

Mar 17, 2008

By the time a child enters third grade, it may be too late to change behavioral issues that could lead to more serious problems later in life, including violent and aggressive behavior. A University of Missouri professor ...

Youth's social problems contribute to anxiety and depression

Mar 25, 2008

Socially successful children tend to have fewer symptoms of anxiety or depression, while children with problems such as anxiety and depression tend to have difficulties forming relationships and being accepted by friends. ...

Recommended for you

Report advocates improved police training

Aug 29, 2014

A new report released yesterday by the Mental Health Commission of Canada identifies ways to improve the mental health training and education that police personnel receive.

Meaningful relationships can help you thrive

Aug 29, 2014

Deep and meaningful relationships play a vital role in overall well-being. Past research has shown that individuals with supportive and rewarding relationships have better mental health, higher levels of subjective well-being ...

Learning to read involves tricking the brain

Aug 29, 2014

While reading, children and adults alike must avoid confusing mirror-image letters (like b/d or p/q). Why is it difficult to differentiate these letters? When learning to read, our brain must be able to inhibit ...

User comments : 0