By Jessica Kelmon, Associate Editor
Being happy is so important, its pursuit is a founding principle of our country. The idea of perpetually unhappy (or even highly stressed) children makes me want to cry. An admitted softy, I know I’m not alone: we want childhood happiness to be a given, not a nice-to-have.
Thank goodness for a recent study of child happiness around the world: “Virtually all kids claim to be happy either ‘all of the time’ or ‘most of the time.’” Researchers report that being happy is a normal state for young ones, which is a resounding relief. (Full discloser: the study, the Global Kids Happiness Index, was conducted by the Marketing Store and from the “Implications” section of the write up, it’s plain that the intent is to better hone marketing messages to children – yikes!)
A world of happy kids
Researchers looked at child happiness across 12 countries and created an index gauging child happiness. Some of what they found is really promising – like being happy is the norm for kids, some is slightly heartbreaking – like the fact that kids’ happiness starts to wane as early as age 12, and some is, unfortunately, downright depressing.
Kids answered questions like “How often do you feel happy?” and rated statements like “I sometimes feel stressed out.” When asked to name three things that make them happy, kids’ responses ranged wildly from teddy bears and warm baths to candy and video games. But there are two reigning influencers on kids’ happiness: family and friends*. When kids feel close to their family and friends, they’re happy. Hooray!
Surprised? American kids aren’t the happiest
Of the 12 countries, U.S. ranks fifth behind Mexico, Spain, Brazil, and Germany. Researchers say this may have to do with the importance and proximity of family in Spanish and Latin American cultures.
Here’s the country-by-country breakdown:
I find this ranking surprising since Aussies repeatedly rank first in global happiness on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Better Life Index. This twist, where Aussie kids rank below stress-case nations like U.S. and Germany, puts it in perspective: what’s great for adults isn’t always great for kids. The other surprise is Mexico. U.S. media coverage – especially TV news, which lacks context to the point of leaving us ill-informed – is devoid of even the smallest positive tidbit about Mexico. That children in Mexico are among the world’s happiest is an important, stereotype-busting stat.
Do you think the world is a good place?
I read the news and I’m appalled by atrocities the world round – but my world view remains positive. One of the biggest downers from this study: by 6 years old, only 58 percent of kids strongly see the world as a good place. And by 12 years old, it drops to 41 percent.
Adults no longer corner the market on cynicism – nor do we hold all the stress. By age 12, school’s harder both academically and socially, and kids are under pressure to do well and fit in. Two-thirds of kids feel stress “sometimes” and 83 percent report having “too much to do.” Luckily, they report feeling such stress “a little” and not “a lot” – so that’s good news. German and Japanese kids reported the highest stress levels. Researchers note that the 2011 tsunami played a role in Japanese kids’ answers, and they point to an article about a new breed of kindergarten classes in Germany focused on reducing stress.
Who’s happiest in the U.S.?
In the U.S., African-American kids are the happiest. Caucasian kids aren’t second or third – they rank a distant fourth behind Asian kids (#2) and Hispanic kids (#3).
Across the globe, family, friends, and play are the three primary sources of happiness. But researchers note interesting cultural differences in what kids rank beyond the top three. American kids tend to say animals (e.g. pets) make them happy; Japanese kids often pick music or arts and crafts; Chinese kids often picked one that U.S. kids rarely did: competition and accomplishments.
Comparing U.S. kids’ answers to parent data, researchers found moms tend to know when their kids are happy (which, happily, is a lot of the time.) Knowing you have a good shot of being right: do you think your child is happy most of the time? And if your children are older, have you noticed a dip in your kids’ happiness as they’ve aged?
*In Japan only, kids ranked video games and playing above family and friends.Follow @JessicaKelmon