Child Behavior: Altruism and happiness



Dr. Schwartz tackles your questions

The holidays are a perfect time for parents to introduce altruism to their children. Sometimes with gift giving, we can forget that true happiness doesn’t come wrapped up in a bow. Happiness is something that must come from within.

 

Are children happier today than we were because they have so much more stuff than we had?

 
There are many contemporary authors who look at our current society as a new gilded age, where we and our children have more, and are more affluent than any other generation in history.

 

But are we a happier society?

As a nation, we are far richer than we were fifty years ago; we have larger homes, more cars and more disposable income. Our children have TVs, computers, and more toys and games than their Leave it to Beaver counterparts did. However, suicide, depression and divorce rates are up for adults and referrals for mental health problems have risen dramatically for children, so something isn’t working!

 

What brings happiness?

 

The research is clear that money and possessions do not equal happiness either for us or for our children. Even lottery winners seem to lose more in those variables we associate with happiness than what they gain monetarily. What can we as parents, with so much at our disposal, do to put our children on the path to lifelong happiness? Researchers say that one of the variables that appear to bring happiness to children is giving to others. Altruism is associated with happiness and elevated self-esteem both in childhood and adolescence. Children who are altruistic, who engage in selfless giving, appear to reap the same benefits that altruistic adults reap. Altruism is clearly the gift that keeps on giving to the giver. Altruistic behavior can also elevate a child’s self-esteem and give children a positive construction of themselves, helping them be happier people and lead a happier life well beyond childhood. 

 

Paul Schwartz, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology and education at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh.