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Why Mom's Happiness Matters More Than Dad's

happy momHappy wife, happy life.

I used to think that was just one of those old chauvinistic sayings that wasn't applicable in the modern world.

Wrong.

New research from Germany takes a look at happiness levels of various family members, and most importantly, at whose happiness affects whom.

The researchers found that kids' happiness levels are very strongly affected by that of their parents, even aside from inherited tendencies to be happy (or not). If the parents are happy, there's a greater chance the kids will be happy, even after they move out of the house. If the parents have habits that contribute to happiness, chances are the kids will pick up some of those, too.

But here's the weird thing: Mom's happiness is much more important to the family than Dad's. Whether or not Dad is happy matters chiefly because his unhappiness might make Mom bummed out –- and that's not great for the kids.

Think about it: Could there possibly be a better reason for you to take that mini-vacation? Cut back your work hours so you have a minute to breathe? Take that class you've been eyeing? If none of these sounds appealing, here are five scientifically-proven ways to be happier. Check them out.

Raising Happy Kids

This research is unlikely to replicated in the U.S., because the data just doesn't exist here. The German study was based on a survey started in 1984 with 12,541 people (there are now more than 60,000 participants). Each person has been asked questions about their health, employment status, income, marital status, happiness levels, and personality type each year.

Here are some habits that are well-known happiness boosters:

  • Maintaining one's preferred work-life balance
  • Regular exercise
  • Altruistic values (as opposed to materialist values)
  • Active social and community participation

It is possible that a parent could exhibit all of these traits and still be miserable. If a father did so, the kids would pick up the traits (increasing their own chances of being happy) and the father's own unhappiness might have little effect. However, if a mother showed all four traits and was still unhappy, her unhappiness would cause her children to be less happy than they might otherwise be -- even if they picked up all four of the habits.

There are some wrinkles:

  • Overall, moms have more influence over the happiness of their daughters than their sons.
  • Sons get altruistic values almost entirely from their fathers, while daughters seem to get them from both parents.
  • The work-life balance of sons seems to be modeled on that of their fathers, while daughters' perception of work-life balance comes from both parents.

The bottom line is that if you're a mom and you're happy, the chances are very good your kids will be happy. And if you're very unhappy, your kids probably aren't as happy as they could be.

Is there a better reason to take a day off and go hiking, or make a better an effort to see my girlfriends for a more-than-occasional drink or dinner date? I'm feeling more selfish even as I write this -- and that's good for everybody. --Kimberly Weisul

(1/22/2013)

Missed our last issue? No worries! Here you go:

Martin Luther King Jr. on Seeing the Stars

If you liked this story, you might also like:

Science Says: Five Proven Ways to be Happier

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Photo Credit: Lab2112 via Compfight cc



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