What Makes a Happy Child?

Ten things that you can do to raise a happy person.

Introduction

Ask any expectant or new mother about her aspirations for her baby and almost invariably she will say something along the lines of "I just want my child to be happy."

As grown-ups, of course, we know that happiness is often elusive. And a sunny disposition may have as much to do with nature (the genetic hand we've been dealt) as with nurture (external circumstances). Even where the latter is concerned, experts are far more certain about what is not relevant (such as money) than what is. What happy people do have in common, say researchers who have studied the subject, are certain key characteristics, including a good sense of optimism, close family ties, good friends, a gift for empathizing with others, and the conviction that their life has meaning.

For a new parent, the burning question is "What can I do to increase the odds that my child will have these things?" Part of the answer is fairly obvious: Accept your child for who she is, not who you think she should be. Be attentive to her needs, take her fears seriously, and really listen when she speaks to you. Above all, make sure she knows that you love her without qualification.

But these principals, worthy as they are, are somewhat abstract. What a parent really wants is a concrete way to achieve these ends. While we can't offer a foolproof recipe for happiness, we have come up with a top-ten list of not-so-obvious ways to steer your child toward her place in the sun.

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