Early Relationships, Not Academic Achievements, Bring Happiness and Wellbeing in Adults

By Monica Wilson on August 06, 2012

In a 32-year study, experts followed the lives of 804 people to look how academic endeavour and social relationship affect one’s happiness in adulthood. Their findings show that it isn’t brainpower, but positive social relationship during childhood makes people happy as they reach maturity.

Measuring Happiness in Adulthood

A person’s childhood has a big impact on what he or she becomes in the near future. Thus, parents are sometimes faced with great pressure when it comes to rearing their kids. A group of researchers from the Deakin University and the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Australia focused their study on adult well-being and how certain factors during childhood affected it. Well-being was defined in the study as a combination of a sense of coherence, positive coping strategies, social engagement and self-perceived strengths.

Associate Professor Craig Olsson, the lead author, and his team measured the relationship between childhood and level of family disadvantage, social connectedness, language development, academic achievement (including in adolescent years), and the participant’s sense of well-being in adulthood. The level of social relationship of the participants during childhood was measured by the teacher and parent ratings of the child being liked, not being alone, and his or her level of confidence. On the other hand, the adolescent’s well-being was shown by his or her social attachments (relationship with parents, school, peers, etc.), and participation in youth and sporting clubs.

What the Study Suggests

Upon analysing the effects of social connectedness and academic achievements, the researchers found that the latter has a weak pathway to adult well-being as compared to the former. Their findings were consistent with the growing research suggesting that there’s a poor link between happiness and socioeconomic prosperity.

The study also shows that social and academic pathways are not interrelated and their relationship might be parallel in nature. If that’s the case, the researchers pointed out, then promoting positive social development in childhood and adolescent should be dealt with separately from that of the academic curriculum. 

Their study was published in the Springer’s Journal of Happiness Studies.


Source of this article:

Olsson C et al (2012). A 32-year longitudinal study of child and adolescent pathways to well-being in adulthood. Journal of Happiness Studies; DOI 10.1007/s10902-012-9369-8


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