By Joel Burgess

In our profession of economic and community development, we often discuss future economic impacts. But have you ever considered that your greatest future impact may not even be a result of your vocation?

Dennis Rainey of Family Life recently posed the question: What are you doing today that will have the greatest impact on the future?

Answer: Your greatest impact will be through your children. For most of us, our greatest legacy will be the little people now eating at our tables, devouring our resources, and testing our patience.

Sociologist Neil Postman describes it well: “Children are the living messages we send to a time that we will not see.”

Of course we want those messages to be positive and for our offspring to positively influence the future. We want to raise happy kids who relate well to others and have the emotional capacity to change with the times. But how can we be sure what makes kids happy in the long run?

A recent survey conducted by The Associated Press and MTV on the nature of happiness among America’s young people asked more than 100 questions of 1,280 people ages 13-24 about what makes them happy. The answers may surprise you, and get you thinking about your impact on the future, economic and otherwise.

Here are the top three keys to kids’ happiness:

1.) Spending time with family. Nearly three-quarters of young people say their relationship with their parents makes them happy. When asked to name their heroes, nearly half of respondents mentioned one or both of their parents.

2.) Spending time with friends. In addition, most young people say it makes them happy to hang out with well-liked peers.

3.) Spending time with a significant other. Then there’s that beloved peer. And it’s not about sex. Being sexually active actually leads to less happiness among 13-17 year olds, according to the survey. If you’re 18 to 24, purely sexual relationships might lead to more happiness in the moment, but not in general. Overwhelmingly, young people want long-term relationships: a high percentage think marriage would make them happy and want to be married some day. Most also want to have kids.

It may be that we worry excessively about our kids’ future happiness when what they really need is for us to model happiness in the here and now. Show love, commitment and integrity to your children – yours is the most important voice in the positive or negative message they carry into the future. Investing in them bodes well for you, them, and your community for years to come.

Dennis Rainey, Family Living, Family Life Transcripts
Jocelyn Noveck and Trevor Tompson, Family Ties Key to Youth Happiness. The Associated Press; 8/20/2007