What's the secret to happiness? It's family

MARIKA HILL
Last updated 05:00 06/04/2014
Rosie Rixon
IAIN MCGREGOR/Fairfax NZ
HAPPY AT HOME: Rosie Rixon says parents’ behaviour can affect teen moods.

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The secret to teenage happiness evades most parents.

But Auckland University researchers think they may have finally found the answer, and it's not money or booze. At the other end of the spectrum, church and cultural groups are not the answer either. It's much closer to home - family.

Ironically, says Michelle Lambert, lead author of research paper "Looking on the bright side", while teenagers fight for independence, they privately crave good family relationships. "It's good news because parents often struggle with adolescents, and don't know how to deal with them," Lambert says, adding teens need to know their parents care and know they can to talk with them.

Good friends, helpful teachers and exercise also boosted teenage happiness, but family had the biggest influence.

So what do teenagers think? Is happiness found in an open home?

Cecelia Tuitavake and Fusi Aho, both 18, said playing sports, hanging out with friends and friendly teachers make them smile. But the pair also said being able to talk to family was the most important thing, although this could mean confiding in a sister rather than parents.

Rosie Rixon, 18, said she was really affected when her parents divorced in her first year of high school. Her unhappiness at home flowed into school life. "Parents don't always realise how much their actions can impact children. Happiness in high school is crucial in a teenager's development. It really does hinder teenagers if they are not happy," she said.

Good friends and approachable teachers also helped, while bullying took away from happiness, she said.

"I found high school teachers didn't care. They just want the assignments in. When you have a good teacher to help it's better for everyone's morale."

Jackson Donovan, 18, considers his teenage years a mostly happy time. "There's obviously a family factor. The way you interact with your family influences your mindset. If you live in a stable family environment, but don't necessarily connect with your family, you can still be happy."

Lambert said what happened in the home had a huge impact on teen moods, with arguments and violence creating unhappiness.

Where teenagers lived, whether it was an upmarket suburb or a state house in a blue-collar suburb, didn't have any effect on happiness. Likewise, involvement in church and cultural groups didn't alter teen moods. "It would appear you're just as likely to be happy if you're poor if you still have the other [social] connections," Lambert said.

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Teenagers who drank more than once a week were less happy than those who didn't.

The study surveyed 8500 teens.

- Sunday Star Times

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