Positive social relationships in childhood and adolescence are the key to adult happiness, according to new research.
Researchers at Deakin University and the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Australia also found that academic achievement had little effect on adult well-being.
A team of researchers led by Craig Olsson, Ph.D., analyzed data for 804 people, who were followed for 32 years in the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study (DMHDS) in New Zealand.
They particularly focused on the relationship between social connectedness in childhood, language development in childhood, social connectedness in adolescence, academic achievement in adolescence, and well-being in adulthood.
Social connectedness in childhood was defined by parent and teacher ratings of the child being liked, not being alone, and the child’s level of confidence. Social connectedness in adolescence was demonstrated by social attachments with parents and peers, as well as participation in youth groups and sporting clubs.
The researchers found a strong connection between child and adolescent social connectedness and adult well-being, noting this illustrates the “enduring significance of positive social relationships over the lifespan to adulthood.”
The researchers also found that the connection from early language development, through adolescent academic achievement, to adult well-being was weak, which is in line with existing research showing a lack of association between socioeconomic prosperity and happiness.
The analysis also suggests that the social and academic paths are not related to one another, and may actually be parallel paths, the researchers said.
“If these pathways are separate, then positive social development across childhood and adolescence requires investments beyond development of the academic curriculum,” the researchers conclude.
The study is published online in Journal of Happiness Studies.