Most of us hope that our children will have a happy and fulfilling future. We do our best to give them a good education, instill strong values, and get them on a road that leads to a (hopefully) productive life.
But what if there is a scientifically proven formula for happiness? Would it change how we raise our children?
Yesterday, The New York Times ran an eye-catching piece on their opinion page by Arthur Brooks called “A Formula for Happiness“. In this article, he discusses several scientific studies that attempt to quantify the components that impact someone’s personal happiness.
There were several interesting trends that I will share from the article before getting into what it reveals are the building blocks of a happy life. Some of the more interesting statistics about who is and isn’t happy include:
- 1/3 of Americans are “very happy”, ½ are “pretty happy” and the remaining are “not too happy”
- For decades women were happier than men but recently that gap has narrowed and may have reversed
- Looking at happiness through a political lens – conservative women are particularly happy (40% say they are very happy) – they are slightly happier than conservative men and significantly happier than liberal women.
- Statistically, the least happy are liberal men with only 1/5 considering themselves very happy
Not being a very political animal, I don’t have any conclusions from those statistics other than they were interesting enough to share. But here is where it gets good…the secrets to happiness.
1) Accept what you can’t change
According to scientific studies cited in the article, 48% of happiness is genetically determined. By studying twins, social scientists have identified genes that impact an individual’s sense of well-being. At this point, they are hypothesizing there isn’t much that can be done to change the genetic “mood” handed down from your family. So basically half of your happiness is a hand-me-down from mom and dad.
2) Humans are fickle creatures
We all know that one good or bad event can impact your mood for weeks afterwards. Studies point to these sort of isolated events as impacting up to 40% of our happiness at any given time. Our lives change after we receive a raise or get into a car accident. But those same studies also show that even the highest high will go back to normal after just a few months. Think about all the stories of people winning the lottery – many do not end so well. Likewise big life changes will soon normalize weeks or months later.
3) Focus on what you can control
So if you do the math (48% + 40% = 88%) we are left with 12%. It turns out that this is the portion we can actually control. The article points to four basic components that impact this area: faith, family, community and work.
The first three make sense; people that believe in something, have a support network, and are living for something beyond themselves usually report having a higher quality of life. But the last one, work, is kind of interesting, especially given many people’s feelings about the monotony of their jobs.
The article makes an interesting case about why work is so important to happiness – and its not about the benjamins. Economists have discovered that money makes really poor people happy, especially when they previously could not meet basic needs. But once people reach a little above middle class, financial gains did not equate to increases in happiness.
What it boils down to is finding rewarding work – a job that combines personal satisfaction and the ability to support yourself. People want to earn their own living and feel like they are doing something that is important.
As I think about what I can do to have the most impact on my children’s happiness, a few things stand out. I want to emphasize the importance of family and engagement in the community by having them serve alongside me in giving back to others. I also want to introduce them to my faith and provide opportunities for them to explore it for themselves. And lastly, I want to encourage a strong work ethic and make sure they have the basic skills necessary to acquire a quality job and succeed in the workplace. Raising lazy and entitled kids will not only mean that they are brats as children, but it will also set them up for an unfulfilled life decades later.
So what do you think of this article? Is raising happy kids one of your goals as a parent? Is there a formula for happiness?