How to Increase a Teenager's Happiness


The science of happiness is a growing area of intense research. What makes us happy? How can we be happier? How can we help our children to be happy?

Problem Solving and Happiness

Researchers of a study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies (2012), were particularly curious if elements of personality predicted happiness[1] during adolescence. They followed 109 sixteen year olds over a school year. At the beginning of the year, students completed a series of personality related inventories. They were also asked to report on their level of happiness. At the end of the year, the personality inventory and the self-rated happiness reports were compared. "Results showed that by the end of the year, the only significant predictor of happiness was the character trait of “self-directedness.”

So what? How can we use this information?

The adolescent years are a dynamic period of change and the teen brain undergoes intense “re-modeling”[2] during this time. It also makes it an ideal time to create opportunities to promote the development of self-directedness. The results of this study show that these efforts will also help to support happiness in youth (and adults too).

Having the skills of being self-directed means that teens are aware of their own limitations and they actively shape their own environments to make the most of their personal strengths. Opportunities that develop self-directedness are ones that defy instant gratification, and, instead, allow teens to figure out their own path, pursue their interests and passions[3], make choices and play an active role in influencing environments that match their goals.

Increasing self-directedness[4] requires children and youth to learn and practice techniques including:

  1. figuring out a task or goal

  2. knowing personal strengths & weaknesses

  3. making a plan of action

  4. choosing an appropriate approach for a situation

  5. following through with action

  6. reflecting and adjusting along the way

Youth who are self-directed are, essentially, good problem-solvers...and happier!


In this study, with high school students in Sweden, researchers Danilo Garcia and Saleh Moradi conclude; "In order to increase and maintain happiness, we perhaps need to look at the part of personality that mediates or modifies the meaning of what is experienced and probably changes emotional reactions and habits."

Author Daniel Siegel debunks myths about the Teenage Brain and "raging hormones" in his book Brainstorm. He discusses the significant changes and remodeling of the brain within the adolescent period. 

As teens explore different activities and interests, they are exploring who they are in the world, what they have to offer and what is valued by others. They discover what gets them excited, what feels meaningful, and what doesn’t. 

Ambrose et al. 2010 states “to become self-directed learners, students must learn to assess the demands of the task, evaluate their own knowledge and skills, plan their approach, monitor their progress, and adjust their strategies as needed”