Kids Who Turn Into Happy Adults

Why are we here? What is our purpose on this lonely planet? Whilst there are always a few people who profess to know the answer, most of us will agree that we haven’t a clue.

So how should we respond to this human condition? Study hard, get a good job, earn lots of money to buy nice things? Or live a selfless life devoted to improving the well-being of others, while minimising one’s own wants and needs?

And how should we guide our children? Push them into the best schools, make them swat endlessly for exams and hope they end up in a “dream job” in a law firm?

More than one professional educator has told me that the most important thing a child can learn, is how to socialise effectively. To learn how to pass an exam is an extremely narrow focus that doesn’t necessarily prepare one for the real world. If you think about it, being successful is more about how well you interact with others and your ability to get them to be a part of your plan, than it is about knowing the necessary facts.

So it didn’t really surprise me to read the results of a study which started about 35 years ago in New Zealand. 1,037 children were studied and followed from the age of three until thirty eight. The study found that disadvantages such as being born into a low income family or of not having a high IQ had little impact on the sense of well-being after reaching adulthood.

The most influential factor was “social connectedness” which was assessed by “peer social inclusiveness and cooperative play with other children, level of confidence, conversational engagement and sharing with others”.

One hopes that our children get sufficient time to develop their social skills at school, but do they? My daughter seems to spend most of recess time standing in the line at the school canteen. Sometimes she takes a lunch box, but then her friends cannot be with her because they are standing in line.

I see the excitement in her when there is a school camp, or an outing for an NDP practice session, or chance to spend an afternoon with a friend. But is it enough?

When I look down at the grounds from my apartment window, I would love to see a dozen or so kids playing, laughing, organising themselves into teams for games, and maybe sometimes a bit of squabbling. It’s how we learn to socialise. But I don;t see that. All the kids in our apartment block are sequestered inside, hunched over their books, trying to get through the backlog of homework while suppressing their beautiful daydreams.

So why are we here? Surely not to accumulate wealth. Not to climb over the backs of others scrabbling for any slight advantage, but surely for that wonderful phrase from the US Declaration of Independence “the pursuit of happiness”.

Now we have more proof, as if any were needed, that we acquire happiness not by acquiring things, not by acquiring knowledge, but by successfully interacting with and enjoying the company of, our friends. So as mothers, fathers, nannies, aunties, uncles, and babysitters, let’s keep that in mind everyday. Encourage outdoor activities (see a previous post on myopia) and as much socialisation as possible.


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