Tue, Nov 11, 2014 - Page 6 News List

Emotional health in childhood is key to adult happiness

The Observer, LONDON

Mick Jagger famously could not get it, but now economists think they know what is required to get some satisfaction.

After investigating the factors in a person’s life that can best predict whether they will lead satisfied lives, a team headed by one of the UK’s foremost “happiness experts,” Richard Layard, has come up with an answer that may prove controversial.

Layard and his colleagues at the Wellbeing research program at the London School of Economics’ Centre for Economic Performance concluded that a child’s emotional health is far more important to their satisfaction levels as an adult than other factors, such as if they achieve academic success when young, or wealth when older.

The authors said that evaluating the quality of a child’s emotional health is based on analyzing internal factors in a person’s early life, including whether they endured unhappiness, sleeplessness, eating disorders, bedwetting, fearfulness or tiredness.

The academics claim their study, What Predicts a Successful Life? A Life-course Model of Well-being, published in the latest edition of the Economic Journal, offers “a completely new perspective on which factors contribute most to a satisfying life.”

The study challenges “the basic assumption of [UK] educational policy in recent years — that academic achievement matters more than anything else.”

Layard and his team analyzed data from about 9,000 people born over a three-week period in 1970 and then tracked by the British Cohort Survey, a study that asks them to complete an extensive questionnaire about their lives every five to seven years. They were also asked to rate their satisfaction at key periods through their lives.

The team then examined factors including their income, educational achievement, employment, whether they had been in trouble with the law, whether they were single, as well as their physical and emotional health — to gauge how significant these were in determining satisfaction. In addition, factors that affect a child’s development — for example, intellectual performance, family socioeconomic background and emotional health were also examined.

Many have assumed income is the most important factor in an adult’s life satisfaction. However, the academics said their data makes clear that this is far less important than emotional health — both in a child and adult.

“Income only explains about 1 percent of the variation in life satisfaction; one-sixth of the fraction explained by emotional health,” they said.

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