Can Our Kids Be Happy With Less?

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A recent Children’s Worlds study revealed some interesting findings about kids’ well-being, and how happy they feel with their relative wealth, families and education.

Surprisingly, nearly all the children surveyed in nations ranging from, but not limited to, Algeria, Ethiopia, Israel, Nepal, Switzerland and the United States, whether rich or poor, indicated generally high levels of satisfaction with their lives. And kids in developing countries whose families owned few material possessions actually ranked higher in overall happiness than their wealthier peers.

Not surprisingly, kids in rich nations such as the United States considered education more of a burden than blessing. Poorer kids rightly saw it as both a gift and an opportunity.

I confess, I often scan the piles of stuff in my kids’ bedrooms and playrooms and think: Why? Why did I buy that, when they so clearly didn’t need it? Why did I part with my hard-earned cash for the must-have item that is almost always cast to a corner the moment boredom sets in?

And when my children—who, blessedly, both like school—do whine a little about a test, an assignment or a teacher they don’t care much for, I remind them that they are among the luckiest girls in the world because they get to go to class without having to fight for the right to learn.

I think our kids can be happier with less, but we might need to show them how. Here are a few questions for parents to consider—ones that might help them get there—questions I’ve also put to myself:

1. Why give in when you don’t want to cave?

Whether it’s a new iPhone or an expensive pair of sneakers, we’ve all be there: We’ve purchased something for our kids even as our inner voices told us: Don’t do it. How can they be happier with less if we never even let them try?

2. Why do we insist on keeping up with the Joneses?

Maybe it’s human nature. Maybe it’s yet another generation weaned on rampant consumerism. If we compete with our neighbors and school parents to deck out our children in the latest trendy clothing or the coolest sports gear, then we can only blame ourselves when our kids demand more, more, more.

3. Why not make them make do?

Not so long ago, our parents and grandparents made due with what they had—even if they didn’t have much. That might mean patched-up pants, worn shoes and leftovers for dinner for the third night in a row. Now, both we and our kids feel terribly deprived if the cable or AC goes out even for a few hours. Is it time to examine what really counts and what doesn’t?

4. Can we adults be happy with less?

Ultimately, our kids mirror us, their parents. If we want our children to be grateful for all they have, to value their education and opportunities, and to not constantly require a fresh stream of new stuff to feel complete and content, it goes without saying we’ll need to ask the same of ourselves.

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