George Vaillant was the psychologist presiding over the Harvard Study of Adult Development which followed research subjects for 75 years. The study goal was to discover ‘What makes people happy?’ The only consistent finding was that successful friendships that connect family and friends are what predict people’s happiness as they make their way through the stages of their lives.
Friendships are a better predictor of happiness than any other single variable.
It is urgent that parents guide children to develop the social/emotional skills that lead to successful relationships. Children need parents to teach them how to socialize effectively – how to make friends, and how to keep friends.
Many ingredients go into creating socially smart children. The following two skills are the most predictive for social competency:
- Emotional regulation – Children who learn to regulate their emotions have deeper relationships than those who don’t. They also have skills to calm themselves more quickly when they experience strong feelings. Emotional regulation also involves the ability to stop, think and wait – to have impulse control.
- Empathy – Practicing the ability to read tone of voice, facial expressions and body language helps children develop empathy skills. It is important for young children to learn to be empathetic, to see another person’s perspective. Being empathetic leads to more ability to have impulse control.
In addition to satisfying relationships, other behaviors that predict happiness include:
- Doing altruistic acts
- Making lists of things for which you are grateful, which generates feelings of happiness in the short term
- Cultivating a general attitude of gratitude, which generates feelings of happiness in the long-term
- Sharing new experiences with a loved one
- Being willing to forgive when loved ones slight you
Article authored by Kate Calhoun of Edmonds Community College & Seattle Central Community College during Winter 2017. Material based on John Medina’s presentation for educators in Everett, WA on January 8, 2011, and in his recently updated/expanded book entitled: Brain Rules for Baby – How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five, Pear Press 2014.