Happy Teens: Not A Myth

What Makes Adolescents Truly Happy

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Even though the term “happy teens” may seem like a contradiction, recent studies suggest that teenagers can be happy—in the right situations. Although the popular conception of the teenager is of a stormy adolescent in constant conflict with his or her elders, such an image may be more of a myth than a reality. As reported in Psychology Today, a study of 2,700 middle and high school students conducted by SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) showed that the majority of teenagers report being happy every day.

In addition, the SADD study showed that the majority of respondents reported that they had positive relationships with their parents, and teens’ positive relationships with their parents mean that overall, they are less likely to drink or use drugs. So, while conventional wisdom holds that teens are disruptive and show risky behaviors such as alcohol and drug use, many teens are acting in positive, connected ways. What are some factors that help teens, and how can parents raise happy teenagers?

What Makes Teenagers Happy?

While each teen is different, there are some common factors of happy teenagers:

  • #1: Grateful teens are happy teens. According to research conducted by Giacomo Bono, Ph.D., a professor at California State University, being grateful reaps many mental health benefits for teens. The most grateful 20% of the teens in Dr. Bono’s study of 700 people were 15% more likely than the least grateful 20% to have a sense of meaning in their lives and had a 15% lower likelihood of having depressive symptoms. The study concluded that parents and teachers should help teens cultivate gratitude, which may bring with it vital skills such as cooperation and perseverance. Teens who are able to develop gratitude tend to feel better about their lives, and grateful teens are more connected to others.
  • #2: Healthy teens are happy teens. As reported in Science Daily, teens who cultivate healthy habits tend to be happier. According to Understanding Society, a study of by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) that looked at 5,000 young people in the United Kingdom between the ages of 10-15, teens who had never tried alcohol were four to six times as likely to report high levels of happiness than those who had tried alcohol. Teens who smoked were five times less likely to be happy. In addition, higher consumption of fruits and vegetables and participation in sports were associated with higher levels of happiness. Therefore, raising happy teens means keeping them healthy and active.
  • #3: Active teens are happy teens. According to another study reported in U.S. News, teens who participated in moderate to vigorous outdoor activities were happier than their peers who spent time in front of computer and video screens. While many teens enjoy playing video games and many private schools are using iPads in class, parents who are raising teens should take steps to reduce their teenagers’ screen time and get them active outdoors. Happy teenagers tend to spend more time with others and spend more time outside than their less happy, sedentary peers.

The Importance of Happiness in Adolescence

The benefits of a happy adolescence transcend the teenage years. As reported in many recent news articles, studies, such as one conducted by University College London and the University of Warwick that looked at a survey of 10,000 Americans, have found that happy teens reported higher incomes by the time they reached age 29. In fact, very happy teens earned 30% more than their less happy peers, even considering other variables such as IQ and levels of education.

While there is no doubt that adolescence can at times be difficult, there is also ample data that it can be a time of creativity, compassion, and connection to adults and peers.

And studies also show that it is vital for teens to experience happiness for their future well-being. Interestingly, income had little effect on teens’ happiness. While extreme poverty can affect children’s happiness, teenagers do not need to be wealthy to feel happy. Teens tend to value the increased social activities that increased income can afford them, rather than valuing the increased income for its own sake. Teens are happiest when connecting to others, not necessarily when purchasing goods.