Why are Dutch adolescents happier?

I am always somewhat wary of surveys or studies measuring ‘happiness’. However, I do find that some of the characteristics demonstrated by certain populations align with happiness research and certainly my work as a psychotherapist and mental wellness counselor.  This involves goals of reducing stress, feeling more empowered, and keeping a more open heart (dare I suggest these things contribute to ‘happiness’ or at least reduced suffering?).  That often means changing our attitudes toward work, parenting, coupling, and life more broadly (it also often means a strong social safety net and strong supports for parents).  Take for instance the research in this article that suggests Dutch teens are the world’s happiest.  While the Netherlands does have a strong social safety net, what we see is more autonomy for adolescents (no helicopter parenting which is a very stressful parenting approach – for the parents!), a less judgmental and open minded approach (for teenagers starting to develop a strong sense of identity often apart from their parents), and interestingly, earlier sex ed curriculum — which may feed into the idea of reduced judgment and open minds and perhaps instilling a sense of trust in the teens.  What keeps so many of us from doing the same — both at the individual, family, community and governmental level – particularly in a North American context?  I suggest fear of vulnerability and fear of failure, which are not prized in a climate of hyper-competitiveness. While competition may be healthy in certain contexts, one might also argue it sets us up for a fearful, scarcity mentality, that works its way into feeling less than relaxed about work, parenting, coupling and so on — a stress we pass onto our children.  Need help with letting go, reducing stress and improving feelings of wellbeing?  I’m here to help.



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