How to Grow up Happy: An Exploratory Study on the Meaning of Happiness from Children’s Voices

Abstract

The methodological approach that we have been developing for over 10 years in the Research Group on Pedagogy of Children Values, at Complutense University of Madrid (Spain) is based on a pedagogical theory of children as active subjects. This article focuses on our last project “Growing up Happy” and addresses two main questions: a) what makes children feel happy, and b) how can we use this information for education. To explore these questions, we put the voices of the children themselves at the center of the research. With the financial support of Fundación Crecer Jugando (Growing By Playing Foundation), we carried out field work at three public and two privately-subsidized Spanish Primary Schools involving students from first to sixth grades. As our interest is in education, our aims were twofold: to learn what children say, believe, and imagine, as well as to make recommendations for educational practice.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    http://www.ucm.es/info/quiron/pedinfant/ See: Jover, and Thoilliez (2010); Thoilliez (2010); Gil et al. (2006); Gil and Jover (2003); Gil and Jover (2000); Jover and Reyero (2000); Gil and Jover (1998).

  2. 2.

    To whom should be added the explanation given by Ryan and Deci (2001, 142), who pointed to theoretical precedents as the Human Potential Movement, developed in the 1960 s in the U.S., and to the more contemporaneous momentum of Positive Psychology.

  3. 3.

    Educational implications that have been subjected to interesting discussions in the field of philosophy of education, and that the recent inclusion within British curriculum of SEAL (Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning) has revived. In this respect, see White (2007), Miller (2008), Smith (2008), Suissa (2008), Cigman (2008), and Jonas (2010). Previously, Smeyers, et al. (2006) reflected upon the thin line that separates the therapeutic from the educational.

  4. 4.

    Such insufficiencies are now gradually being acknowledged from within psychology. “Epistemological” solutions are now being found in education, assuming and integrating a clearly pedagogic perspective on happiness and well-being. We have noted a clear transferral, if not direct appropriation, of education discourse in fragments such as: “Two competitive approaches to well-being have emerged as competing opponents in the research area: subjective well-being (SWB) and psychological well-being (PWB) (…) The former focuses on hedonic elements of life (…) PWB, on the other hand, is the result of a need for a theory-driven conceptualization of well-being and the indifference of the current conceptualization of SWB toward existential dimensions such as meaning, growth, and direction” (Simsek, 2009, p. 506).

  5. 5.

    Article 12.1 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child provides that “States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child”. In article 12 of the General Comment CRC/C/GC/12 on ‘The right of the child to be heard’ (adopted by Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2009) we can read as follows: “The views expressed by children may add relevant perspectives and experience and should be considered in decision-making, policy making and preparation of laws and/or measures as well as their evaluation”. See as well Resolution S-27/2 ‘A world fit for children’ adopted by General Assembly in 2002.

  6. 6.

    “Such an approach, although well-intentioned, raises serious issues. First, it treats childhood as a lump, as if an 8-month-old were the same as an 8-year-old, and voids childhood of a developmental focus. Second, it does not address the problem of how to involve a newborn, or the youngest children. In addition, participation is conceived of as taking place only between the researcher and the child. This fails to recognise that children typically have parents who bear the primary legal responsibility for them and, by implication, for their safety and their material, social and emotional well-being. Parents have known their child since birth, across multiple environments. Yet parental participation receives limited consideration in this approach” (OECD, 2009, p.26).

  7. 7.

    Fernando Bárcena has extensively explored from a philosophy of education position, the concept of childhood as “the anthropological experience of beginning” (Bárcena, 2002a), reflecting on the possibilities of an education conceptualized in these terms. Our research places the “subject of education”, the child, as an “experiencing subject” (Bárcena, 2002b, 41), attempting to grasp his happiness’ experience by showing directly the voices of children who took part in the field work.

  8. 8.

    The full version of the questionnaire can be seen in Jover and Thoilliez (2010, 126-127), where we present the instrument and work-in-progress of this research.

  9. 9.

    It should be born in mind that the number of children in the age groups at each extreme (6-7-year-olds and 12-year-olds) was quite small, which may be affecting the results.

  10. 10.

    In Spain, people herald in the New Year by eating twelve grapes at the twelve strokes of midnight.

  11. 11.

    “The concept of the child that emerged in the Enlightenment was based on the idea that children are fundamentally different from adults, that children are not born into adulthood but must achieve it, and that it is the responsibility of adults to both protect children and lead them down the road to adulthood. But even during the Enlightenment most children did not have what we would call a childhood. This is because childhood is not just an idea. It is a hard-earned historical achievement. For much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries people did not have much choice but to treat children as small adults. Only in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with the sharp decline in child labour and the advent and extension of compulsory schooling, could childhood really be said to exist in the modern sense” (Guldberg, 2009, p. 51).

  12. 12.

    For the origins of this interest specifically referring to childhood up to the current perspective on the establishment of indicators capable of quantifying the well-being of children, see Ben-Arieh (2010).

  13. 13.

    The Unicef (2007) report’s results about Spanish children’s situation have been recently confirmed by Bradshaw and Richardson (2009).

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Acknowledgemnts

I would like to thank all the members of the Research Group on Pedagogy of Children’s Values at Complutense University of Madrid as well as the Directors of Growing by Playing Foundation, who have both supported and funded this research. I wish to also thank both reviewers of this article for their helpful comments.

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Thoilliez, B. How to Grow up Happy: An Exploratory Study on the Meaning of Happiness from Children’s Voices. Child Ind Res 4, 323–351 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12187-011-9107-5

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Keywords

  • Children
  • Subjective well-being
  • Happiness
  • Growth
  • Pedagogy