Parent and realist Rachel Reitsma offers her thoughts on the subjective science of happiness, and how she differs from her kids.


Even in our technological and scientific age, we humans still have some pretty basic needs. We have basic biological needs, security needs and relationship needs. But another important need is finding the purpose of life and happiness. Psychology reports can now determine one’s happiness. And not only that, but how we perceive our children’s happiness.

The problem is that happiness is a subjective science.

The reporting of happiness is conducted through self-reporting and ratings and questionnaires. The happiest countries in the world are worked out on the areas of economics, neuroscience and national statistics. (By the way, the happiest countries are Switzerland, Iceland, Denmark, Norway and Canada.) And when it comes to studying a child’s happiness, it comes down to their perspective of relationships with other people. (The happiest kids in the world are actually from countries like Mexico, Spain and Brazil, and the most important source of a kid’s happiness is close friends and family.) It is interesting to note that Daniel Gilbert of Harvard University compares happiness to optometry in terms of subjectivity as both sciences are built on people’s reports of subjective experience. So measuring happiness is based on someone’s perspective.

To give a more scientific definition for the feeling of happiness, Aristotle thought that it contained two aspects: hedonia (pleasure) and eudaimonia (a life well lived). Modern psychology also defines it as pleasure but adds meaning and engagement to rate happiness. Happiness is related to contentment and life satisfaction and having more positive emotions than negative ones. But the major difference between adult’s happiness and children’s happiness is that adults seem to pursue happiness whereas children just be happy.

What makes kids happy is playing outside, no pressures about time, free play, imagination and adventure and wonder. While adults’ happiness is dependent on success, contentment, milestones and relationships. Since happiness is achieved so differently depending on your development and experiences, is it possible for parents to interpret their children’s happiness? The results of a new study by Plymouth University states that parents were inclined to score a child or adolescents’ happiness closely in line with their own emotional feelings, which were different to the child’s own reports. This may lead to a misunderstanding between children/adolescents and the parents, who may not be able to support or attend to their child’s needs accurately. Perhaps parents need to stop putting their own demands and stresses of competition and achievements on to their children. Perhaps they may need to remember a child’s perspective in life: one of naivety, equality and creativity.

But to be fair, when looking at a child’s life compared to an adult’s life, there are many more responsibilities and stresses in a parent’s life. With sleep deprivation and consumerism as some of the major factors for suppression of happiness, it doesn’t seem like parents have much to help them get happy as these factors will be present in your life if you are raising children and establishing a home. Well guess what; another psychological test looked at whether parenthood is good for happiness or not.

Again, you don’t instantly have happiness when becoming a parent, it actually depends on you and your child’s characteristics. Research shows that a parent’s age, gender, parenting style and emotional bonds are all linked to levels of happiness. But all evidence points to the fact that happy parents often mean happy kids. This is because happier parents influence positive outcomes in their children, like their child’s motivation, achievement and relationships with peers. Adults may be pursuing happiness while children are happy, and parents may not be able to read their child’s happiness accurately because their own emotions get involved, but the key theme is that being part of a community or family and having purpose (regardless of money), success and talent is what will ultimately make adults and children happy and content.

But it is a little ironic that the happiest people are the ones with family connections, though being part of a family can be one of the most stressful things to be involved in, which begets suppression of happiness in the search for it…?


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