THE BLOG
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Secret To Happiness According To Kids

Times are tough. Real tough.

As the New York Times recently pointed out, many parents have found themselves out of work and at home--and it ain't good. "For many families across the country, the greatest damage inflicted by this recession has not necessarily been financial, but emotional and psychological," reports Michael Luo. "Children, especially, have become hidden casualties, often absorbing more than their parents are fully aware of."

So National Geographic Kids decided to poll our readers to find out how kids are faring in a world of doom and gloom. Guess what? Out of 613 panelists, almost 70 percent consider themselves "very happy" and roughly 44 percent said they are actually happier now than they were a year ago.

In the search for happiness, adults are turning to Eckhart Tolle and Joel Osteen and Xanax and Valium and diets and surgery. But we may only have to look to the schoolyard for the remedy. Our survey discovered five reasons kids are grinning ear to ear, and adults would be wise to put down the self-help books and take a lesson on happiness from their children.

A Kid's Cheat Sheet to Happiness:

Discover the Funny

Xbox 360, iPod, Nintendo Wii, LeapFrog...

The big-ticket items aren't going to make kids happy. Our readers say having lots of toys (27 percent) and having the things all the popular kids have (15 percent) don't factor into how happy they are. The thing that makes them MOST happy?

Laughing (78 percent).

We're usually too busy, exhausted, or distracted to find the funny in life. But, according to kids, noticing the humor in a situation helps you stay in high spirits. So don't let the funny pass you by. Gather up your kids and rent funny movies, play charades, or turn your living room into a comedy club where everyone performs their best stand-up routine.

As one NG KIDS reader said, "Life is too short not to be happy."

Savor Life's Small Pleasures

We're constantly in fifth gear. Between scheduling appointments, long hours at work, carpool duty, and cooking dinner, it's no wonder we feel overworked and exhausted. But that's another thing we can learn from kids: slow down--way down--and appreciate the moment.

"I just had a very good day at school and my mom got me a bagel. :- )"

"I watched Dirty Dancing. It's the best movie ever and soooooooo romantic!!"

Unlike adults, kids are happy because their minds aren't wandering off into the future or back into the past. For a day or an afternoon, throw away the calendar. Cozy up together in front of the fire and sip hot cocoa. Read books aloud to one another. Let our kids teach us how to relax and enjoy the moment.

Put Family First

Unemployed parents are now spending a lot more time at home, but, unfortunately, that doesn't mean they're spending quality time together as a family. Kids like to spend time with their parents. They told us it would make them happy if one or both of their parents spent more time with them (48 percent). And--don't worry--they're not asking to go on a fancy vacation or eat out at an expensive restaurant. They want to keep it simple. Kids said it would make them happy for their entire family to go to a movie (61 percent), have a family game night (59 percent), or go camping (52 percent).

So schedule some serious bonding time with your family. As one reader pointed out, it's important to make time for those you love. "My family and I have gotten much closer. We tell each other everything--every secret--so we don't have that extra weight. We've learned to trust each other. I think that is the key to true happiness."

Get a Pet

"The secret to happiness is playing with my pup," wrote one reader.

Turns out Fido and Fluffy may play a fundamental role in a person's happiness. NG KIDS readers know that pets provide unconditional love. Pets don't judge and they don't complain, they're just there to offer you a sloppy kiss after a long day.

"I have great pets that cheer me up so I don't get sad or mad."

Can't own a family pet? How about volunteering with your child at a local animal shelter like one of our readers? "I get to take care of the animals, hold them, feed them, and clean them. I'm looking forward to holding the guinea pig to my heart to comfort it."

Be Grateful

Our readers told us that, although they're happy, they still face hardships.

"I'm struggling to discover who I really am," said one child.

"My father went away indefinitely," said another.

Despite their problems, though, kids are staying positive. As one reader told us, "I always look at the glass half-full. Even in times of trouble, I have my head up."

Today's kids are busy with soccer practice, homework, and playdates, but they're not too busy to be thankful. According to kids, one of the keys to happiness is to always remember how fortunate you are.

"I have a very good life," wrote one NG KIDS reader. "We have enough food. I have books to read. I have my family. I am able to go to school."

"I feel happy with my life because I have a lot of people who care for me," said another.

Let's learn from our kids and keep the attitude of gratitude year round (and not just at Thanksgiving). Create a "happiness" list once a week with your child. Write down all the things your family has to be thankful for. Then put it up somewhere around the house where everyone can see. Lists not your thing? Sit down with your kids and write a letter to someone who has made an impact in your family's life, like a teacher, relative, or coach.

And remember, when it comes to happiness, kids know best.