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Think. Discuss. Act. Happiness

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What Makes Teens Happy

D. Borgman, (1987). Happiness. S. Hamilton, MA: Center for Youth Studies.

Summary

Satisfaction is a difficult concept to study, and it is not easy to find out what makes teenagers happy. There is a feeling of superficial happiness based on fun, excitement, or pleasure. There are also the deeper psychic states of joy and contentment.

Human beings seem to be made for union and significance-for love and service in the world. Psychology, philosophy, and theology all seem to agree on that-as they speak of “fulfillment,” the “summum bonum” or highest good, and “the chief end of man.” Blessedness in the Sermon on the Mount or happiness in the prophets or Proverbs may be quite different from that promised by modern commercials, but both realize that we are made for happiness of some kind.

Love and significance are here used as the underlying ingredients of most worldviews. Though experiencing love and contributing significantly to a local or world community bring satisfaction and a sense of well-being, it can be very difficult to determine and measure such happiness.

There are several reasons why it is difficult to define and measure happiness. Happiness is relative to a culture’s conception of satisfaction and to the importance assigned to personal satisfaction as a basis for well-being. Happiness is different for Russians than Americans; tribal, traditional, and technological societies view it from unique perspectives. Happiness is seen and expressed differently by stoics and Epicureans, hedonists and Puritans. Happiness may be judged by the immediate gratification of desires or in terms of deeper needs for relationships, community, creative expression, and service.

So, to consider the happiness of modern teenagers, one must look at the values of a culture and of the various teen subcultures. This discussion tries to pick up indicators of what makes kids happy or express satisfaction with their lives.

The significant Posterski/Biddy study, “Project Teen Canada, 1984” looked for the things that make teens happy. They found the following percentages deriving a great deal of enjoyment from:

Friendships 74%
Music 72%
Boy or girlfriend 55%
Dating 50%
Your stereo 47%
Your mother 46%
Sports 44%
Television 39%
Your grandparents 29%
Brother(s) 28%
Sister(s) 26%
Your father 26%
Your car 22%
School 20%
Your job 20%
Youth groups 11%
Church (synagogue) 8%

The same study revealed these favorite leisure activities:

Listening to music 90%
Watching television 57%
Daydreaming about the future 51%
Sitting and thinking 44%
Dancing 44%
Attending parties 40%
Following sports 43%
Playing non-team sports 40%
Playing team sports 39%
Working out 37%
Attending sports event 27%
Reading the newspaper 37%
Following the news 35%
Spending time on hobby 34%
Reading magazines 32%
Reading books 29%
Participating in the youth group 17%

In 1979, the Gallup Youth Survey began asking 13-18 year-olds if they were generally satisfied with the way things were going in the U.S. and if they were satisfied or dissatisfied with the way things were going in their own personal lives. Here is a summary of responses, 1980 and 1985, as to how satisfied they were with their own lives:

1980

Satisfied

Dissatisfied

Not sure

National Total

82%

17%

1%

Girls

79%

20%

1%

Boys

85%

14%

1%

13-15 year-olds      
(Both sexes)

83%

16%

1%

16-18 year-olds      
(Both sexes)

81%

18%

1%

Whites

84%

15%

1%

Blacks

76%

22%

2%

       
1985      
National total

88%

10%

2%

Girls

84%

13%

3%

Boys

92%

6%

2%

13-15 year olds

87%

10%

3%

16-18 year olds

89%

9%

2%

Whites

90%

8%

2%

Blacks

81%

16%

3%

 

 Gallup Youth Surveys tend to show an upbeat of teenage opinion since it interviews 13-18 year-old young people by phone.

In contrast to Gallup, the Institute of Social Research gives extensive questionnaires to high school seniors each year (of course, this misses all dropouts and truants).

ISR asked seniors how generally happy they were.

 

“Very happy”

“Not too happy”

Males

18%

10.5%

Females

18.2%

13.8%

Whites

18.9%

10.2%

Blacks

11.6%

20.5

 

Young women seem to be less satisfied with their life situations and with themselves than males in American culture. Black youth are less satisfied with their life situations but are more satisfied with themselves than whites. Despite problems with low self-image, a large percent of American youth see themselves as happy and satisfied with their life as a whole.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. What does happiness mean and how important is it?
  2. How do people respond to survey questions about it?
  3. When one talks about happiness, is one discussing self-worth, satisfaction with life productivity and direction, the quality of significant relationships, or a current feeling?
  4. To what degree do you consider yourself happy these days, and on what do you want your happiness to be based?

Dean Borgman
© 2018 CYS

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