FRIENDS are the key to kids’ happiness, trumping families and toys as a source of joy, new research reveals.
Girls are more cheerful than boys – but happiness starts to dive from the age of nine, when children become as miserable as the elderly and sick.
Unhappiness among tweenagers has become so acute that schools are resorting to classroom psychotherapy to help students look on the bright side.
Students are being taught “gratitude, hope and serenity”, in American-inspired programs used by some of the nation’s top private schools – including Geelong and Sydneys Knox grammar schools – and spreading within the public system.
Behavioural economists Tony Beatton and Paul Frijters, from the Queensland University of Technology, have found that extroverted and conscientious children are the happiest.
But happiness drops dramatically between the ages of nine and 14 – and changes in school and friendships are largely to blame.
“The children get unhappier as they progress through the school system, from grade four to nine,” Dr Beatton said.
“What really surprised us was that this steep decline was much bigger than the happiness decline we see in old people.
“Children get unhappy when they go to high school, and this decline in happiness is much larger than what our children will experience when they get old and sick.”
The QUT study found that wealth and the natural environment does not have any significant effect on childhood happiness.
But conscientiousness – a trait known to render adults unhappy – has the opposite effect on kids.