One Ingredient of Happy Children

A research team at the University of British Columbia published a study involving toddlers and generosity. In this study, each toddler received treats (like Goldfish crackers). A few minutes later, one group of toddlers was asked to give one of their treats to a puppet. Another group was given an extra treat to share with the puppet. The study revealed that the toddlers who shared their own treat with the puppet displayed greater happiness than the toddlers who were given a treat to share. In other words, the toddlers who made a personal sacrifice exhibited greater happiness than those who did not. The toddlers found the generosity of personal sacrifice emotionally rewarding. One author of the study said, “Forfeiting their own valuable resources for the benefit of others makes them happier than giving away just any treat.”


Two thoughts came to my mind when I read a summary of this study. One, Jesus said that unless we become like little children, we will not enter into the kingdom of heaven. This study reveals an important lesson we can learn from children–it is better to give than receive. And, giving that includes some level of personal sacrifice elicits happiness. Generosity in the family contributes to joy. Families that practice sacrificial generosity will reap the reward of intimacy. Individual members of the generous family feel more significant because of their opportunity to impact others; more connected because they share something that is personally meaningful; and happier because (as this study suggests) sacrificial giving produces happiness…which brings me to my second thought about this study.


We, as parents, contribute to our children’s happiness when we encourage them to give to others…especially if it means they have to make some personal sacrifice. Sometimes we have trouble watching our children make a personal sacrifice. We hate to see them “lose something” they truly enjoy or lack something they really like having. So, we “protect” them from that feeling by giving them the “thing” to give away. Then, it is no skin off their nose. They do not have to make the sacrifice. We walk away feeling better because we do not have to see our children struggle with personal sacrifice. However, this study suggests that when we take away their opportunity to make a personal sacrifice, we rob them of happiness. We deprive them of the complete happiness that comes from making a generous personal sacrifice for another person. On the other hand, when we force them to give to others, we rob them of the joyous reward they might receive from freely offering a gift…and we plant seeds of resentment. But, when we model personal sacrifice in our giving…when we encourage them to give generously…when we present opportunities for sacrificial giving…we increase the opportunity for our children’s happiness.


What are some ways you can model personal sacrifice in giving? In what areas might you encourage your children to give generously?

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