A new UC Davis study has found that happy adolescents report less involvement in crime and drug use than other youth.
The authors used 1995 and 1996 data from nearly 15,000 seventh- to ninth-grade students in the federally funded National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health.
They found that about 29 percent of the youth surveyed reported having committed at least one criminal offence, and 18 percent said that they had used at least one illegal drug.
The researchers then correlated these reports with self-assessments of emotional well-being.
"Our results suggest that the emphasis placed on happiness and well-being by positive psychologists and others is warranted," said co-author Bill McCarthy, a UC Davis sociology professor.
"In addition to their other benefits, programs and policies that increase childhood and adolescent happiness may have a notable effect on deterring non violent crime and drug use," added McCarthy.
McCarthy and Teresa Casey, a postdoctoral researcher at UC Davis argued that positive emotions also have a role.
"We hypothesize that the benefits of happiness - from strong bonds with others, a positive self-image and the development of socially valued cognitive and behavioral skills - reinforce a decision-making approach that is informed by positive emotions," they wrote in their study.
Their research finds that happier adolescents were less likely to report involvement in crime or drug use. Adolescents with minor, or nonclinical, depression had significantly higher odds of engaging in such activities.
The study will be presented at the American Sociological Association Annual Meeting in Las Vegas.