• Dr. Bill Walker

The Secret To Teen Happiness: Important New Research

Is there a secret to your teen’s happiness?

New research has identified the top activities that make teens both happy and unhappy.

It's definitely worth a read!


The teen years are a time of great challenge, growth, and change. As any parent of a teen knows, the highs and lows of these years can be like riding an emotional roller coaster. States of happiness and unhappiness fluctuate unpredictably from one day to the next.

Recent research from San Diego State University has made a major contribution to unlocking some of the influences on teen happiness and unhappiness. This research has identified specific activities associated with our teen's happiness.

The list should be both surprising and eye-opening parents of teens.

In the study teens were asked to identify the activities that made them happy and activities that did not make them happy.


The Following Activities Were Found To Be Associated with Teen UN-happiness

#6 Texting

#5 Leisure Time Alone

#4 Social Media

#3 Playing computer games

#2 Surfing Internet

#1 Listening to music

As a parent I imagine you are scratching your head. Our kids are obsessed with anything to do with their smart phones. They use their phones to engage in every activity on the Unhappy List - including leisure time alone.

Being online surely APPEARS to be the true source of happiness for our teens. Yet teens themselves are saying, 'online activities do NOT make us happy!'

What Gives?

This may be the key: Each of these activities is usually done alone. None of these activities are group activities involving being in-person with other people.

For example - Listening to Music.

How can listening to music not be associated with teen happiness? As parents, we say: “Listening to music was a major source of enjoyment and happiness when I was a teenager. How could that not still be true for my kids today?”

One possibility is we listened to music differently than teens today listen to music. In the 80s and 90’s (maybe the best music decades EVER) we would listen to CDs with our friends sitting in the den or in our bedrooms. We listened to music on the car radio. Who doesn’t have wonderful memories of riding around with our best friend(s) on Friday nights, laughing and singing along to the songs on the radio?!

Today’s teens listen to music differently. Think about it. Our kids listen to music on their smart phone sitting in their bedroom ALONE by means of EARBUDS pressed firmly in their ears. In other words, kids today listen to music by shutting themselves off from the world, in total isolation.

It’s not the music, so much as it is the way the music is enjoyed. We parents enjoyed it by sharing the listening experience in the presence of people we cared about and were close to. Today’s teens listen to music isolated and shutoff from the world – all alone.

All the items on the unhappy list – texting, surfing the web, Instagram – occur on a computer/phone screen of some kind, and occur in isolation, apart from the physical presence and interaction of others.

This fact will become CONCERNINGLY CLEAR when we see the next list.


The Following Activities Were Found To Be Associated with Teen HAPPINESS

#6 Attendance at Religious Services

#5 Going To Movies

#4 Volunteer Work

#3 In-person Social Interaction

#2 Participating in Sports or Exercise

#1 Sleep

Notice a MAJOR Pattern Here!

With the exception of sleep, each of these activities involves physical, face-to-face interaction with other people.

Excepting sleep, NOT A SINGLE ONE of these activities INVOLVE the USE OF a SMART PHONE!

The author of the study concluded:

Today’s teens “spend less time with their friends in person and attending religious services, and more time online. Within this list of activities, we found every screen activity was correlated with less happiness, and every non-screen activity was correlated with more happiness.” [1]


Christianly Speaking

God created humans for relationships. He created us to have a relationship with Him, and a relationship with others.

Jesus Christ said the 2 greatest commandments in all the Bible are this:

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.

And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself."

(Matthew 22: 37-39, NIV)

We are created to love others by means of relationships. When we isolate ourselves from other people we cut ourselves off from the positive blessings that God designed us to both, give, and receive, from our relationships with others.

It should be no surprise that lack of interaction with others leads to unhappiness and depression.

We are neglecting to be, and do, what God designed us to be, and do.


The Bottom Line


1) Activities that involve being with other people are most strongly related with happiness,

and activities that involve being alone are most strongly related with Unhappiness.

2) It's About Avoiding Extremes

Teens DO need some time alone. This is an important part of adolescent development. But - the time they spend face-to-face with other people is every bit, if not MORE important, than time alone.

3) Help Your Teen Find Opportunities for Face-to-Face interaction with Other Teens

Refer back to the 'happy activities list' and get ideas from there.

4) Unhappiness Can Develop into Depression

DEPRESSION IS DANGEROUS and needs to be addressed! Talk with your teen. Talk with your teen's school counselor. Have your teen evaluated by their pediatrician for a possible referral.

The following link provides an excellent article for helping parents understand teen depression.

Before You Go

Thank you for reading this article.

Can I ask a personal favor?

Without your help this article will disappear from Facebook about as quickly as it appeared. The result is very few people will have the chance to read it.

I think there are parents out there struggling with how to understand their unhappy teens. They might greatly benefit from the information in this article.

So, please, help me get this message out.

A simple ‘click’ on your part, to 'like', 'comment' &/or 'Share' may make all the difference in helping a family deal with their unhappy teen.

For the Family,

--dr. bill