Are kids happier than adults?

Less Stress

Childhood isn't all fun and games, as anyone who's dealt with a bully knows.
Childhood isn't all fun and games, as anyone who's dealt with a bully knows.

Children may not experience the same stressors that adults do, but they feel stress just the same. While kids don't have mortgages and jobs to worry about, they have plenty of other worries, such as the pressures of fitting in with peers, succeeding in school or avoiding the class bully.

These may seem like child-sized problems, but when you're child-sized, these "kid problems" are full-sized stressors. According to one survey of children, kids are stressed out by the following (in order of stress):

  • School
  • Family matters
  • Peer concerns, like friendship, bullying and reputation

[source: KidsHealth]

Half of a child's happiness is determined by the child's natural temperament, just like with an adult. A child who deals well with stress, is outgoing and has a sense of personal identity may be more likely to feel -- or access -- a sense of happiness, but that's not the complete picture. The most upbeat kid won't be happy in unhappy circumstances, such as a troubled home environment, and neither would an adult.

While a child has age-specific stressors such as school or bullies, the amount of stress a parent feels also filters down to the kid. If Mom is worried about losing her job or Dad is having health problems, you can bet those stresses are detected and experienced by the child as well. Studies indicate a child is likely to be happy if his or her parents are happy -- even if at least some of the parent's happiness is secured by claiming personal time away from the child [source: Discovery Health]. A child who receives perfect nurturing, structure and care from a stressed-out parent will be influenced as much by the state of the parent as by the parenting provided.

What else affects a child's happiness? Kids with good attention spans who are able to effectively handle stress -- some of the same traits that likely make them happy children -- are more likely to grow up to be happier adults [source: Kubzansky]. Concerning kids between the ages of 9 and 12, one study showed that children across all demographics were likely to be happy if they had a positive personality, popularity among peers and also viewed themselves as being physically attractive (no surprise there) [source: Holder].

According to another study, spirituality accounts for up to more than a quarter of all variance in children's happiness levels [source: Holder]. But we're not talking prayer, meditation and attendance of religious services -- the study took into account only a child's sense of having meaning in life as well as the quality of personal relationships.