on rearing happiness

Christine Carter of UC Berkeley Greater Good Science Center:

The key to happiness. Does it exist? What if you could give such a gift to your children? Believe it or not, scientific research suggests you can. Lost amid headlines about preschoolers on anti-depressant drugs and teenage suicides is the good news that parents can and do make a difference with regards to their children’s happiness—now and later in life. This article reviews current research on the foundations of emotional well-being to reveal how parents can establish the roots of adult happiness in their children.

Happiness certainly comes to some people more easily than it does others, but nature does not trump nurture when it comes to well-being. Only about half of a child’s overall level of happiness is determined by her genetic make-up.[1] A large team of child development experts recently summarized current thinking regarding the nature vs. nurture debate:

Virtually all contemporary researchers agree that the development of children is a highly complex process that is influenced by the interplay of nature and nurture. The influence of nurture consists of the multiple nested context in which children are reared, which include their home, extended family, child care settings, community, and society, each of which is embedded in the values, beliefs, and practices of a given culture…In simple terms, children affect their environments at the same time that their environments are affecting them…At every level of analysis, from neurons to neighborhoods, genetic and environmental effects operate in both directions.[2]

Nature and nurture are both important determinants of happiness; furthermore, they are inextricably intertwined. As the primary nurturers of their children—and because they have at least some measure of control over the environments and contexts in which their children are raised—parents have a tremendous impact on whether or not their children grow up into happy adults.

More here.