“When we look at the research on the childhood precursors of adult well-being – the traits we see in children who go on to become happy adults – we find that the driving factor is childhood conscientiousness, not childhood happiness. Children who are industrious, orderly and have good self-control are more likely than their careless or undisciplined peers to grow into happy adults.”
“Careless or undisciplined” aren’t the friendliest terms, though in the context of Ms. Damour’s story about her plagiarizing college student and the student’s lawyer-calling father, I understand her tone.
I do like the conclusion that conscientiousness as a child drives happiness as an adult, if only because it validates my actions this morning. The kids wanted to play games on the iPad. So, they had to bring their breakfast dishes to the table and clean up their bedroom and playroom. Our soon-to-be first-grader needed to read three Dr. Seuss books and our soon-to-be third-grader needed to read several chapters in her book. And then they had to give me hugs, during which I tickled both kids and made them laugh, hard. (I’m a tough mom, but only on the outside.)
Now, research also suggests that conscientiousness in some situations “may be harmful for well-being. In a prospective study of 9570 individuals over four years, highly conscientious people suffered more than twice as much if they became unemployed. The authors suggested this may be due to conscientious people making different attributions about why they became unemployed, or through experiencing stronger reactions following failure. This finding is consistent with perspectives which see no trait as inherently positive or negative, but rather the consequences of the trait being dependent on the situation and concomitant goals and motivations.” (see lovely wikipedia)
Maybe happiness comes from knowing where you are, what you’re doing, what you want to do next and how you’re going to do it all–all while understanding the impact you have on others and the impact they have on you.
And maybe unhappiness comes from feeling lost, and ill-equipped, and… inconsequential.
So we can all be happy. It just takes a little work, and perspective.