People are naturally moral, because for at least the last hundred thousand years of our species’ existence women have chosen men for their mates whom they thought would treat them well. That is the root cause that we have a genetic component of our DNA, common to all humans, that codes for what we call morality. If this were not true there would be many more psychopaths than there are, and even these people are known to be friendly most of the time with most other people.
The vicious actions most often observed in humans are created and supported by the social groups that they were born into, and their violence toward others is aimed at defending their group from attacks. Sun Tsu in his book The Art of War, written in 500 BC China, said that, the best people make the best soldiers. These good soldiers are people who were of normal DNA, raised by supportive parents in a safe environment. It is to the good soldiers of the world and the people sending them into combat that this post is primarily directed. Protect the children from being traumatized, even the enemy’s children, or they will grow into desperate adults.
A modern research questionnaire given to 50,000 people in the Kaiser Permanente hospital complex, called the Adverse Childhood Experience test (ACE), has demonstrated the intimate link between childhood abuse and adult difficulties. This seems obvious, but this research relates detailed percentages of adult risks to specific childhood bad experiences. With this new understanding of how children react to their experiences there are now efforts to identify children at risk and give them appropriate help. In previous blog posts I have created a Positive Child Experience test, that includes advice for replacing adverse childhood experiences with positive childhood experiences. Just removing adverse experiences will bring these children to what is presently called a normal adulthood, but providing them with positive childhood experiences will help them to become happier people than we typically encounter today.
In 1938 a study began of 268 physically and mentally healthy Harvard students. The 75-year long longitudinal study is called the Harvard Grant Study and the director of the study, George Vaillant, published Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study (2012) and Adaptation to Life(1977), where he demonstrates that a good childhood is the predictor of a long and happy life. Strange, to me at least, is that only a few of these socially privileged men were rated as truly happy at age eighty, though most were happy, which tells me that just being socially privileged doesn’t mean one has a positive childhood experience. No matter how bad their previous experiences were, people can grow in a direction they choose, but it takes some effort, and most people just cruise through life and thus follow the trajectory set by their childhood. That being the case it makes sense to give children the best possible childhood experiences.
To be raised as a fully functioning human being requires some things typically overlooked in the happiness literature. Choose to live in a safe law-abiding community. This seems so obvious, and yet many, perhaps most people don’t feel totally safe stepping outside of their own home. Some countries are much better than others, and here is a complete listing of 162 countries ordered by their peacefulness on the Global Peace Index. It is easier to be happy if living in a safe city. Here is a list of the 100 safest cities in the US. Here is a list of the worst neighborhoods in the US—get your kids out of them, and into these best schools. Choose the best schools for your children, and that happens to be in New York City. But, wherever you are, the most important thing is to cultivate instant positive support for the good deeds of the kids you meet.
Create happy people by keeping them safe and promoting their real skills.