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One Secret to Raise Happier Kids

Updated: Jun 11, 2023

Helping others is the secret sauce to increasing personal happiness, proven by research. For youths, community service is also an opportunity to acquire many important life skills - team work, executive functioning, accountability and much more.

The pursuit of happiness seems to be ingrained in our culture as Americans. It is a self-evident right stated in the constitution. But no one seems to teach us how to be happy.

But according to Dept. of Health & Human Service, up to 1 in 5 children face mental health challenges. The number of high schoolers who reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness increased by 40% in the last decade, to more than 1 in 3 students.

COVID and social isolation with the increasing use of technology are exacerbating this trend.

Getting your kids engaged with the world by helping others is a great way to teach them how to lead a happy and fulfilled life.

If you want happiness for an hour — take a nap. If you want happiness for a day — go fishing. If you want happiness for a year — inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime — help someone else. - Chinese proverb

The Science Behind it

According to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists have observed neurological activities that explain why altruism makes us feel good.

One area activated by charitable behavior in the brain is the mesolimbic pathway — the same area that distributes the feel-good dopamine chemicals. The second area impacted is the subgenual area of the brain, which plays a key role in formulating social attachment.

3 Ways to Help Your Kids Be Happier Through Giving

To get the most out of charity work for your kids takes more than showing up to a soup kitchen. Here are some useful tips.

  1. Find a Cause They Believe In. Whether it is helping the needy or saving the environment, it is hard to feel good when one doesn't feel the connection to the mission. So, discuss the purpose or potential impact with your child and choose the activities together.

  2. Hands on Team Activities Preferred. Since part of the neurological benefit of charity is in forming social attachment, it is better to find in-person team activities. At a time of increasing social isolation brought about by COVID and technology use, we can all use some opportunity to build social connections.

  3. Their Money, Their Cause. For students, community service is generally a better option than monetary donation. It gives them to experience the impact more directly. But if they choose to make a donation, make sure it is money they earned through work and given to a cause they have researched. Merely passing on money handed to them does not help with their sense of ownership and responsibility.

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