Monday, June 01, 2015

What do children and young people in Georgia need to be well and happy?

Georgia ranks 134th out of 156 countries in the United Nations World Happiness Report 2013. The list is topped by some of the Northern and Central European countries – Denmark, Norway and Switzerland – whereas central African states such as Togo, Benin and Central African Republic appear in the bottom positions. Interestingly, all of Georgia’s neighbors score higher than Georgia, with Russia in 68th, Turkey in 77th, Azerbaijan in 116th, and Armenia in 128th place. This ranking takes into account GDP per capita, life expectancy, perceptions of corruption, freedom to make life choices, etc., but what do people and particularly children and young people, think they need for happiness and well-being? This blog post provides some insight into the subject based on a preliminary qualitative study on perceptions of children and young people on well-being conducted in Tbilisi by CRRC-Georgia for the MYWEB project. Twenty in-depth interviews and four focus groups were conducted in November of 2014. 

Taking into consideration their age (11-19 years old), the groups of children and young people who took part in the research largely fit into the ego identity and role confusion category of adolescence identified by prominent psychoanalyst Erik Erikson (1950, 1963). This period is important as children start becoming more independent and thinking about their future careers, relationships, families, and society. At this stage of development, children have to learn the roles they will occupy as adults, and it is interesting to see what the views of youth at this crucial stage of development are on well-being and happiness.

Happiness, well-being and life satisfaction are often discussed together in studies trying to measure human happiness. Unsurprisingly, respondents in the MYWEB study often used well-being and happiness as concepts which complemented each other. Young people identified parents/family, health, financial stability, success and freedom as major components needed for happiness and well-being.

Parents were noted as an important part of well-being and happiness for children of all ages in the study. However, while at 11 one needs to have parents around to feel well and happy, at 18, happiness is related to one’s independence from parents. 

My parents are the most important people for me. They are the ones who bring me up and take care of me [Interview_Girl_12]. 
[Happiness is] doing what you want without your mother and father [Interview_Girl_17].

Even though teenagers crave independence, their parents’ opinions remain highly valued to them. 

While at the onset of the ego identity and role confusion category, children indicate that closeness to and the health of their parents and family are central parts of happiness and well-being, as the years go by, more abstract and value-based concepts appear. 15-16 year old respondents were especially inclined to mention freedom as a major component of well-being and happiness. For example, a 15 year old girl stated, “I think everyone [young people] wants the same – to be free, to be themselves.” A few of them stressed the importance of freedom in general, while others thought of freedom as the ability to do what you want, to say what you want and to choose what you want starting from minor everyday things to choosing a career. In the later years of the ego identity and role confusion category, a set of rights and responsibilities emerges and becomes important for well-being and happiness including the right to vote, drive, have a bank account, and buy cigarettes and alcohol. 

I turned 18, and I gained some rights. I am getting a driver’s license, for example. I opened a bank account, not to mention alcohol and cigarettes [Focus-group_Boy_18].

Importantly, young people in their late teens are also thinking about responsibilities, which vary from study workload to taking more of a lead in their own lives and thinking more about how to live in practical terms.

Even though children and young people sometimes differ in their perceptions of what the most important components of happiness and well-being are when asked about the present, their views are largely similar when asked what will matter for their happiness and well-being as they grow to their parents’ age. All study participants saw themselves having families and children of their own, having jobs/careers and being healthy.

For more on the MYWEB project, see the project website here.

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