In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Happiness in Children

  • Introduction
  • Characteristics of Happiness in Children
  • Child Predictors of Adult Happiness
  • Cross-Cultural Studies of Happiness in Children Living Outside of North America and Europe

Childhood Studies Happiness in Children
Kaitlyn Dickie, Mark D. Holder, John-Tyler Binfet
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0188


This article was developed to facilitate access to research on happiness and subjective well-being (SWB) in children aged 5 to 12 years old. Articles are thematically organized into seven distinct sections: (1) characteristics of happiness, including temperament, character strengths (e.g., hope, love, optimism, and zest), friendships (e.g., who children identify as their best friend and whether or not the friendship is reciprocated), and popularity and attractiveness (e.g., how children perceive themselves and how they are perceived by other children); (2) measures of subjective well-being, including uni-dimensional and multidimensional scales and self-report measures, reviews of measurement instruments, development of measurement scales, and comparative analyses of measurement scales; (3) correlates of happiness, including spirituality and religiosity (e.g., praying, believing in a higher power, and attending a religious institution), socioeconomic status and poverty, and school conditions and living environment (e.g., student-teacher rapport, learning conditions, supportive friendships at school, and home environment); (4) early childhood predictors of well-being in adulthood such as social connectedness (how close children feel to their friends, family, and community, and how children’s social connections and relationships will influence their well-being later on), academic achievement (e.g., how satisfied children are with their academic achievement and how their academic performance in childhood will affect their well-being as an adult), and living in remote locations (e.g., how the location of their childhood homes can impact their well-being later in life); (5) children’s social relations (e.g., student-teacher relations, peer-relations, and parent-relations) with emphasis on how much support children receive from their varied social relationships; (6) happiness in children around the world, including measurement scales’ applicability across races, how children in underdeveloped countries differentially value specific life domains (e.g., family, self, environment, social, and friends), and whether having children participate centrally in research (i.e., viewing the child as an expert rather than simply a unit of analysis) increases our understanding of children’s well-being in different cultural contexts; and (7) positive psychology interventions developed to enhance happiness and SWB in children including those that focus on gratitude (e.g., gratitude lists and gratitude letters), kindness (e.g., planned acts of helping or sharing), leisure activities (both active and passive), physical activity (e.g., counting steps and participating in recreational or extracurricular activities), and mindfulness (e.g., mindful yoga practice and Tai-Chi). It is hoped that this article will facilitate access to empirical work for researchers and practitioners seeking to better understand the complexities of childhood happiness.

Characteristics of Happiness in Children

This section is composed of eight studies that focus on characteristics that describe children with high levels of happiness, subjective well-being, and life satisfaction. Holder and Coleman 2007; Holder and Klassen 2009; Huebner 1991; Park and Peterson 2006; and Tian, et al. 2015 focus on aspects of temperament and personality (e.g., character strengths, prosocial behavior, extraversion, and self-esteem) in relation to children’s happiness. Froh, et al. 2009 and Irma 2014 examine the effects of social relationships on happiness and subjective well-being. Lastly, Dinisman and Ben-Arieh 2015 assess sociodemographic variables (e.g., country of residence, self-reported socioeconomic items, and demographic characteristics) and subjective well-being in children.

  • Dinisman, T., and A. Ben-Arieh. “The Characteristics of Children’s Subjective Well-Being.” Social Indicators Resolution 126 (2015): 555–569.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11205-015-0921-x

    Relations between sociodemographic variables (gender, age, self-reported socioeconomic items [e.g., access to a home computer], and country of residence [i.e., native-born or non-native born]) and children’s subjective well-being (SWB) were assessed. Three scales (overall life satisfaction, overall satisfaction in specific domains, and overall subjective well-being) were used. Country of residence accounted for the largest amount of variance in the children’s SWB of any single variable (6–13 percent), and together the sociodemographic variables accounted for 11–20 percent of the variance.

  • Froh, J. J., C. Yurkewicz, and T. B. Kashdan. “Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Early Adolescence: Examining Gender Differences.” Journal of Adolescence 32 (2009): 633–650.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.adolescence.2008.06.006

    The benefits of experiencing and expressing gratitude were examined in relation to subjective well-being, social relationships, prosocial behavior, physical symptoms, gender, and family support. Though gender failed to significantly moderate the relation between gratitude, subjective well-being, and physical symptoms, it was found to moderate the effects of gratitude on family support. Results indicated that gratitude had significant effects on physical symptoms (β = −0.162) and relational fulfillment (β = 0.332).

  • Holder, M. D., and B. Coleman. “The Contribution of Temperament, Popularity, and Physical Appearance to Children’s Happiness.” Journal of Happiness Studies 9 (2007): 279–302.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10902-007-9052-7

    Personality, popularity, and appearance were examined in relation to children’s happiness assessed with self-report and other-report (i.e., the children’s parents and teachers). Temperament traits related to extraversion correlated negatively with happiness whereas traits related to extraversion were correlated positively. Additionally, children’s status relative to their peers and their physical attractiveness were correlated with their well-being, but demographic variables were not associated with children’s happiness.

  • Holder, M. D., and A. Klassen. “Temperament and Happiness in Children.” Journal of Happiness Studies 11 (2009): 419–439.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10902-009-9149-2

    Relations between children’s temperaments are reported to be the strongest predictors of their happiness; the temperament trait akin to extraversion (i.e., sociability) is positively correlated with happiness, and the temperament trait akin to neuroticism (i.e., emotionality) is negatively correlated with happiness. In general, children who were more social and active were happier and children who were more shy, emotional, and anxious were less happy.

  • Huebner, E. S. “Correlates of Life Satisfaction in Children.” School Psychology Quarterly 6 (1991): 103–111.

    DOI: 10.1037/h0088805

    Children’s global life satisfaction was found to be positively correlated with self-esteem, extraversion, internal locus of control, and school achievements, and negatively correlated with anxiety, neuroticism, and external locus of control. Demographics and objective circumstance (e.g., parents’ occupational status, socioeconomic status) were not found to affect children’s well-being; self-perception, however, was a determining variable for global satisfaction.

  • Irma, E. “In Pursuit of Happiness: How Some Young South African Children Construct Happiness.” Journal of Psychology in Africa 18 (2014): 81–87.

    DOI: 10.1080/14330237.2008.10820174

    This qualitative design used semi-structured interviews to assess children’s conceptualizations of happiness. Three key themes were identified and included: relationships (e.g., friends and family), recreation (e.g., sports, vacations), and attainment of material possessions (e.g., gifts and money). Surprisingly, though none of the questionnaires referred to significant others, children predominantly conceptualized happiness as a reflection of relationships.

  • Park, N., and C. Peterson. “Characters Strengths and Happiness among Young Children: Content Analysis of Parental Descriptions.” Journal of Happiness Studies 7 (2006): 323–341.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10902-005-3648-6

    The relation between the character strengths identified in the Values in Action Questionnaire and happiness in children was discussed. The researchers hypothesized that strengths requiring psychosocial development (i.e., zest, gratitude, hope, and love) would be associated with happiness in children just as they are in adults. Results indicated that love (r = 0.31), hope (r = 0.12), and zest (r = 0.31) were significantly correlated with happiness. Gratitude was found to be uncommon among children in this study.

  • Tian, L., M. Du, and S. E. Huebner. “The Effect of Gratitude on Elementary School Students’ Subjective Well-Being in Schools: The Mediating Role of Prosocial Behaviour.” Social Indicators Research 122 (2015): 887–904.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11205-014-0712-9

    The meditating role of prosocial behavior (PB) on the relation between gratitude and subjective well-being (SWB) (school satisfaction [SS], positive affect [PA], and negative affect [NA]) in children was examined. SWB predicted gratitude and SS. PB partially mediated the relation between gratitude and SS and gratitude and PA, but did not mediate the relation between gratitude and NA. Gender mediated the relation between gratitude and SS, and PA mediated the relation between gratitude and SWB overall.

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