According to the traditional measures of life satisfaction and happiness, self-esteem (a positive or negative evaluation of one’s self, how they feel about themselves) appears to be one of the strongest correlating factors with happiness 1. Data from 3,407 students from the University of Northern Columbia showed that the correlation of self-esteem with overall life satisfaction/happiness was higher (from 0.64 to 0.75) than the correlation with other important factors such as family relationship etc.
In the 2010 HBSC study 2 it was found that over 83% of young people in England (from 11 to 15 year olds) felt positive about their lives, although this is a slight decrease since 2006 (85%).
Measures of life satisfaction give us an idea of young people’s happiness as constructed by adults 3 but do not give us knowledge about how young people define happiness themselves.
What are young people’s own experiences of happiness; what do they mean by happiness and being happy?
Research that has asked young people in detail about their definitions of what makes them feel happy 3 found that young people rate autonomy, feeling safe and secure, sense of self and self-image, material resources, home and environment as the most important aspects of their lives that shape happiness.
Children’s idea of happiness also change as they get older. Chaplin 3 recruited young people divided into three age groups; 8-9 year olds, 12-13 year olds, and 16-18 year olds, and then asked them to construct their own answer to the open-ended question: “What makes you happy?” Five categories were identified: 1. ‘People and pets’, 2. ‘Achievements’, 3. ‘material things’, 4. ‘hobbies’, and 5. ‘sports’.
The different age groups differed in the emphasis they placed on the individual categories. In particular, the youngest age group listed more hobbies as contributing to their happiness than the other age groups, the middle group listed more material things than did the other age groups, and the oldest group put most emphasis on achievements. While ‘people and pets’ was one of the most important factors across all age groups, the oldest cohort listed fewer instances in this category than the middle group, perhaps indicating the increasing independence and parting from important adults, such as parents and teachers, at this age.
Among material resources as an attribute of happiness, young people usually list having pocket money, ‘brand’ name clothes and trainers, technology items (e.g. iPods and satellite TV) and family holidays 3.
As we can see, neither the traditional life satisfaction scales nor the qualitative studies investigating young people’s happiness list the materialistic resources at the top of young peoples own ranking - or as the only ones which make young people happy. Instead it seems likely then that the happiness of young people depends more on significant people around them, the young people themselves and maybe their achievements and how fully they live their life?
1. Michalos, A.C. &Orlando, J. A. (2006). A note on student quality of life. Social Indicators Research, 79(1), 51–59.
2. Brooks, F., Magnusson, J., Klemera, E., Spenser, N. & Morgan, A. (2011) HBSC England National Report. Health Behaviour in School-aged Children. World Health Organization Collaborative Cross National Study. Hatfield, CRIPACC .
3. Magnusson, J., Klemera, E., Brooks, F. (2013) Life satisfaction in children and young people. The Child and Family Clinical Psychology Review, The British Psychological Society,No1, Spring 2013, 118-124.