Engaging Faith: Practical lesson ideas and activities for Catholic Educators

September 18, 2007

What Makes American Youth Happy?


Over the summer, the Associated Press and MTV released findings of an in-depth study of young people (13-24) and happiness. Some of the findings were surprising—but probably encouraging—to teachers and parents of American young people.

In essence, here’s what the study revealed:

  • General Happiness: 65% said they are happy with the way things are going; 62% said they think they will be happier in the future; 72% of whites reported that they are generally happy with life while only 56% of blacks and 51% of Hispanics claimed that they were generally happy.
  • Parents, Family and Relationships: When asked what one thing makes them most happy, 20 % of the 1280 young people being surveyed mentioned spending time with family — more than anything else; 73 % said that their relationship with their parents makes them happy. Nearly half of the respondents mentioned at least one of their parents as a hero; 46% said that spending time with friends, family and loved ones is the one thing in life that brings them the most happiness. After family, it was relationships with friends that people mentioned most. Being sexually active for youth aged 13-17 reportedly led to less happiness while those in the 18-24 age group reported that sex might lead to happiness in the moment but not in general.
  • Religion and Spirituality: 44% of the surveyed youth say that religion and spirituality are either a very important or the single most important thing in their lives; 10% described religion and spirituality as the most import thing in their lives; those who valued religion and spirituality reported more happiness than those who said that spirituality is not important at all.
  • Fortune and Fame: Almost no respondents mentioned anything financial or material as a source of happiness. Many reported financial woes as a source of unhappiness. 70% said that they want to be rich; nearly half of the respondents thought there was some chance they would be rich someday. Only 29% of the surveyed young people want to be famous but only 17 percent thought they actually would be.
  • Technology: Nearly 66% of surveyed youth said that cell phones, the Internet and other technologies make people happier. Half of those said that the Internet alone makes them feel happier. Many respondents said they would be more stressed without technology. Nearly 50% said they never turn their cell phones off.
You can have a complete look at the survey and its 100 plus questions of youth here.

Consider a class discussion on this recent study of teens and happiness. The topic is particularly appropriate and relevant as an added lesson in a morality course (Your Life in Christ), vocations (Marriage and Holy Orders) and also in Scripture courses where students might compare survey results with what God’s word says about happiness.

Suggested Teaching Strategies

1. Create a simple 10-question pop quiz (true/false or multiple choice) on youth and happiness to jumpstart discussion on what makes young people happy.

2. Poll students to see how many are surprised that:
  • most youth are fundamentally happy
  • relationships (family and friends) are the major source of happiness
  • money isn’t seen as a source of happiness
  • young people would be less happy without technology
3. Broaden the discussion and ask students to share their own
ideas about a happy life.

4. Divide students into three groups to research different areas of Scripture to see what God’s Word has to say about human happiness. One group should find five Old Testament references; a second group could to research the Psalms; the third group should identify statements about happiness from the New Testament.

5. Creative Learning: Challenge students to create posters for display in the school that includes an MTV Survey statistic as well as a quote from Scripture that teaches about happiness.

-Post by Cathy Odell

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