Are high-achieving kids happier than mall kids? Can learning a musical instrument make you happier?

September 28, 2014

Happiness is often a topic that can be easily confused. I certainly was when I was a kid. I remembered feeling incredibly jealous when I saw all my ‘cool’ friends do many fun activities. Back then, my definition of happiness was the person who partied the most and seemed to have the most fun. Since I was not a ‘cool’ kid in school, I felt sad and even a bit left out. I recall going on Facebook and being incredibly jealous of all the happy pictures of friends who seemed to be having the time of their life, while I was sitting at home.

Now, I know that my previous belief of happiness was completely wrong. I decided to spend my free time this year studying happiness (reading books such as Authentic Happiness by Dr. Martin Seligman and Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert) and have really began to understand the truth about long term happiness and fulfillment.

As discussed in Authentic Happiness, Seligman studied the happiness of high-achieving students versus mall kids (those that never studied and always played). It turned out that the high-achieving students had a much higher overall happiness than mall kids. Although it would seem that the mall kids were having more fun, their enjoyment only lasted the duration of their outings. Afterward, their happiness dropped back to their normal happiness. It is like a sugar rush. Sugar rushes give you a quick energy boost, but afterwards, you are worse off not eating that chocolate bar.

What they found that was more ironic was that high-achieving students falsely believed that mall kids experienced more happiness than they did. This study was very liberating for me. I no longer needed to feel jealous of missing out on childhood fun. I was probably happier than my mall friends.
Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.
- Mahatma Gandhi
So how does happiness correlate with learning a musical instrument? Well, as it turns out, EVERYTHING. Seligman further discusses the differences between pleasures and gratifications. Pleasure activities are those such as watching soap operas and eating ice cream. These activities give us a quick boost of happiness but then our happiness drops back to our normal level. The issue with pleasure activities are that they can become addictive and we will began to need more at higher doses. Remember the last time you bought a bag a potato chips. Remember when you told yourself you would only have 10 chips, but ended up eating the entire bag and feeling really mad at yourself?

Meanwhile, gratification activities are those such as reading a book or learning a musical instrument. Although they can sometimes seem like ‘boring’ activities, they provide us with sustained long term happiness that gives us a reason to live. These activities provided us with a sense of fulfillment. To test whether it is a pleasure or gratification activity, ask yourself: after doing this activity, do I feel more excited about my life or less? If you feel more excited, its a gratification. If you feel less excited, its probably a pleasure activity.

Please comment below about your ideas of happiness as a child.