Grades may matter less than parents think

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By Natasha Persaud

Feeling socially connected as a child could be more important to future happiness than good grades, according to new research published in the Journal of Happiness Studies. The Australian study tracked more than 800 men and women for 32 years, from age 3 onwards, to discover pathways to adult wellbeing. Their model of wellbeing involved values such as:

  • believing life is meaningful,
  • social involvement at work and at play,
  • having coping skills,
  • and kindness and trust.

Remarkably, economic security wasn’t included because previous research suggests it’s not that important to happiness.

Why Parents and BFFs (Best Friends) Matter

During childhood, parents and teachers assessed whether participants were confident, well-liked by peers or excluded from activities. During adolescence, the now teenagers performed self-assessments that gauged personal strengths, friendship quality, parental support, participation in groups and overall life satisfaction. Having someone to talk to if they had a problem or felt upset was very important.

The results: The association between teen social engagement and wellbeing more than a decade later was strong. Academic success contributed to a much lesser degree. The study authors suggest that adding a social curriculum to academics at school might be a good way to foster lasting happiness.

Why should social interactions early in life matter? The study authors posit that it promotes healthy ways of relating to oneself, others and the world.

The research, while preliminary, might be eye-opening for parents. While grades are important, fostering a good relationship with your son or daughter is more so. Likewise, helping your child form positive friendships may help him or her enjoy a truly good life later on.


Olsson, C. et al. “A 32-Year Longitudinal Study of Child and Adolescent Pathways to Wellbeing in Adulthood. Journal of Happiness Studies. Published online July 25, 2012.

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 12 Sep 2012

Last Modified: 13 Jan 2015