Why Being Social in Youth Is Linked to Adult Happiness

(Image credit: Dmitriy Shironosov | shutterstock)

Good social relationships in your youth might translate to happiness as an adult, while doing well in school seems to have little influence on well-being later in life, new research suggests.

The study is based on 32 years' worth of data for 804 people who participated in the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study (DMHDS) in New Zealand. Craig Olsson, of Deakin University in Australia, and a research team mined this survey for clues to the childhood and adolescent origins of well-being in adulthood.

Olsson and his team measured how several different factors were connected to adult well-being. These included social connectedness and language development in childhood, as well as social connectedness and academic achievement in adolescence, according to the academic publisher Springer, which printed the research in its Journal of Happiness Studies.

The researchers defined social connectedness by parent and teacher ratings regarding how well the child was liked, how often the child was alone and the child’s level of confidence. In adolescence, this factor was measured by participation in groups, such as sporting clubs, and social attachments to their parents, peers and others, according to Springer.

The researchers reported a strong "pathway" from child and adolescent social connectedness to adult well-being and happiness. Meanwhile, there was little evidence connecting early language development and adolescent academic achievement to adult well-being, which suggests social and academic pathways might not be closely related.

"If these pathways are separate, then positive social development across childhood and adolescence requires investments beyond development of the academic curriculum," the authors concluded, according to Springer.

While these findings suggest social relationships in youth have a lasting importance, those with lonely, studious childhoods shouldn't fret. Previous research has shown that happiness levels are not set in stone, and can change dramatically over a lifetime.

Megan Gannon
Live Science Contributor
Megan has been writing for Live Science and Space.com since 2012. Her interests range from archaeology to space exploration, and she has a bachelor's degree in English and art history from New York University. Megan spent two years as a reporter on the national desk at NewsCore. She has watched dinosaur auctions, witnessed rocket launches, licked ancient pottery sherds in Cyprus and flown in zero gravity. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.