What makes children happy? Children tell researchers what's important


“All I want is for them to be happy.”

Parents want many things for their children but, most of all, they want them to be happy. So, what makes children happy?

We can’t deny the reality that material possessions and money do play a role. Children in a 2009 study were asked to list the things that made them happy. Not surprisingly, material items featured on the lists (1). Some parents may fear that, without a lot of money, they can’t afford the things that will make their children happy.

However, there is good news. Material possessions are not the only things that make children happy – children in the study also listed people and pets, hobbies, sports and achievements as things that bring them happiness.

More importantly, material items are not the most important things for children’s happiness. When children in the study were asked to choose between things on their lists, a clear winner emerged, and it wasn’t material items.

Can you guess what it was?

It was people and pets. Children consistently removed hobbies, sports, achievements and material items in order to keep people and pets on their lists.

Interestingly, when children did choose to keep material items on their list, it was often because the items served a purpose related to relationships with other people. For example, mobile phones were considered valuable because they allowed children to talk with friends and family.

The research suggests that spending time with people and pets is more important for children’s happiness than material items. This is great, but what if you’re unable to spend as much time with your children as you would like to? What if your work, study and family commitments mean that you are among the many time-poor parents? 

Don’t despair. The children in the study said that parents were not the only people to bring them happiness. Relationships with other family members, friends, teachers, coaches and neighbours were also important. So, the research suggests that supporting children to have safe and appropriate connections with other trusted adults and peers, and encouraging children’s safe interactions with pets, may be ways to support children’s happiness, especially for parents who are unable to spend as much time with their children as they wish.

Most parents have heard about the concept of a “village” cooperating to bring up children. The research described here supports this idea, by showing that relationships with a variety of people (and pets!) are important to children’s happiness. Basically, it seems that children agree that it does indeed “take a village to raise a child”.   


1. Chaplin, L. N. (2009). Please may I have a bike? Better yet, may I have a hug? An examination of children's and adolescents' happiness. Journal of Happiness Studies, 10(5), 541-562.

About Real talk:

Very important jobs are done by parents and carers who raise children, and by people who work with children and families. A big part of doing these jobs with confidence is having access to good information. Research produces a lot of information, but sometimes this information can be difficult to access.

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