Magazine article Work & Family Life

The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness

Magazine article Work & Family Life

The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness

Article excerpt

What do I really want for my children? If you spend some time thinking about his question, your reply will almost certainly include one particular word, the simple, even silly-seeming word, happy. Most of us parents just want our children to be happy, now and forever. Oh, sure, we also want them to be good people; we want them to contribute to the world; we want them to care for others and lead responsible lives. But deep down, more than anything else, most of us want our children to be happy.

One way to define happiness is as a feeling that your life is going well. That feeling doesn't have to begin in childhood but it's a good place to start if you want it to become a habit that endures. One researcher studying the roots of happiness has concluded that "happiness is not something that happens to people but something that they make happen."

We can't control everything in our children's lives, but we can make sure that they learn the basics of the skill of happiness. When I say we, I mean both we as a society and we as individuals interested in the welfare of children. And the we's need to work together to plant the roots of adult happiness solidly in childhood.

As parents, we don't get unlimited time with our children to set down these roots. We get about fifteen years of real, at-home, muddy-river, big-dream, go-out-and-play, kiss-me goodnight, time-is-forever, I'll-never-die childhood. Recently I said to my youngest child, who had just turned six, "Tucker, could you try to find a way to grow up more slowly?"

So how can we protect children long enough for a good spell to be cast, letting the magic of childhood turn them into resilient and joyful adults? A whole new field of research into the ingredients of happiness has sprouted in the past few decades (see the sidebar on this page). We now have a more solid idea of what can go right, not just wrong, what can be changed and what can't and what children need in order to stand the best chance of finding happiness later on.

The ability to create and sustain joy.

The capacity to deal with pain and adversity.

These are the childhood roots of adult happiness and here is what children need in order to thrive now and in the future.


Connection in the form of unconditional love from an adult, usually one or both parents, is the single most important root of adult happiness. When parents expect more than a child can deliver-when they imply, for example, "I love you but I would love you even more if you get an A"-they are raising children who feel that they can never please their parents, no matter what.

There are many other kinds of connection that, when combined, form an all but unshakable foundation on which you can build an entire life. …

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