According to research, happiness is approximately 50 percent genetic, 10 percent influenced by life circumstances, and 40 percent influenced by your thoughts. So how can we teach our children to think in ways that increase their happiness? Below are some ideas taken from research studies on happiness:
In an article from USA TODAY (12/8/2002), Marilyn Elias states “The happiest people surround themselves with family and friends, don’t care about keeping up with the Joneses next door, lose themselves in daily activities and, most important, forgive easily.” She goes on to say that “life satisfaction occurs most often when people are engaged in absorbing activities that cause them to forget themselves, lose track of time and stop worrying.” She explains that teenagers, as well as adults, experience this phenomenon when they are using their strengths and doing what they do best.
Gratitude also has a lot to do with life satisfaction. Studies show that talking and writing about what you’re grateful for increases happiness. And forgiveness is the trait most strongly linked to happiness, says University of Michigan psychologist Christopher Peterson.
One of the longest-running social-science studies of our time followed close to 200 individuals for fifty years beginning in the 1920s. According to psychologist and researcher Paul Wink of Wellesley College, who oversees the study, one of the keys to happiness is generativity—the ability to give to others.
Noted positive psychology researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky, taking research results from three specific happiness activity studies, notes that committing acts of kindness and expressing gratitude are among the most important activities that lead to happiness. Dr. Lyubomirsky’s research indicates that variety is important when doing acts of kindness. Subjects in the study who were instructed to repeat fixed acts of kindness did not fare as well as those who used a variety of kind acts.
The benefits of acts of kindness were:
Helping see others more charitably.
Feeling better off by comparison.
Relieving guilt over other’s misfortune.
Feeling interdependence and cooperation.
Feeling generous and competent to help others.
Being attractive to others.
Children can be taught how to live happily. Positive education is defined as “education for both traditional skills and for happiness.” The high prevalence of depression among adolescents and the synergy between learning and positive emotion supports the idea that the skills for happiness should be taught in school. There is substantial evidence showing that skills which increase resilience, positive emotion, engagement and meaning can be taught to schoolchildren. One important study, the Penn Resiliency Program, seeks to increase students’ ability to handle common problems. It promotes optimism, assertiveness, creative thinking, decision making, relaxation and other coping skills. Here are some of the findings:
• Penn Resiliency Program reduces and prevents symptoms of depression.
• Penn Resiliency Program reduces hopelessness.
• Penn Resiliency Program prevents clinical levels of depression and anxiety.
• Penn Resiliency Program reduces and prevents anxiety.
• Penn Resiliency Program reduces conduct problems.
• PRP works equally well for children of different racial/ethnic backgrounds.
Related positive education curriculum aids in helping children identify their signature character strengths and to increase their using these strengths in their daily lives. One exercise has students write three good things that happened each day for a week, and then asks them to answer questions about the meaning of the good things and how they can have more of it in the future.
The positive psychology program improved such skills as empathy, cooperation, assertiveness and self-control.