Parents & the success versus happiness debate

Why do some parents crave success over happiness for their children? Is there any science supporting their approach – and which careers do they want their children to pursue?

The parents prioritising success

Earlier this year (and as reported by the Independent), a survey of UK parents revealed that…

  • More than 1/5 of parents would like their child to seek success over happiness, kindness or honesty
  • 1/6 currently have a ‘career in mind’ for their kids
  • And a 1/4 confess they actively discuss this career more frequently than others
  • Over 1/2 try to steer their children towards particular subjects, with the intention of helping them to secure these jobs in future

The parental divide:

When it comes to the jobs themselves, mothers’ and fathers’ opinions commonly differ.

  • Mothers most want their children to pursue ‘engineering and manufacturing’ roles (27% vs. 21% of fathers).
  • Conversely, dads most want their children to enter the world of ‘computing or coding’ (33% vs. 13% of mums).

Why would any parent pick success over happiness?

A spokesman for Siemens (the study’s author), suggests that most parents truly ‘wish for their children to be happy’, yet some parents think ‘money can buy that happiness’.

Are these parents right? Let’s see what the science says…

Which comes first, success or happiness?

The London School of Economics and Political Science has a great piece on this topic.

  • They open by discussing the old adage that you ‘work hard, become successful, then you’ll be happy’. However, they go on to discuss multiple studies that suggest the opposite is true.
  • They conclude that ‘taken together, the hundreds of studies we reviewed…provide strong support for our hypothesis that happiness precedes and often leads to career success’.
  • Forbes also supports this notion, stating that ‘Neuroscience and studies of positive psychology prove that happiness is a key driver and precursor of success, with two decades of research backing this up’.

So, whether you’re at risk of becoming a pushy parent, think your parent steered you towards your career, or you’re just trying to work out the best job for you, it’s time to start asking what will make you and/or your children happiest!

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