Happiness as a Crime Deterrent A new study reports that a happy teen is less likely to be involved in criminal activities or use drugs.

UC Davis researchers Bill McCarthy, Ph.D., and Teresa Casey report their findings in a paper titled “Get Happy! Positive Emotion, Depression and Juvenile Crime.”

“Our results suggest that the emphasis placed on happiness and well-being by positive psychologists and others is warranted,” McCarthy said. “In addition to their other benefits, programs and policies that increase childhood and adolescent happiness may have a notable effect on deterring nonviolent crime and drug use.”

The researchers evaluated results from a 1995-1996 federally funded study of Adolescent Health — the largest, most comprehensive survey of adolescents ever undertaken.

Investigators compared self-assessments of emotional well-being to criminal activity or reports of drug use. They discovered about 29 percent of the youth surveyed reported having committed at least one criminal offense, and 18 percent said that they had used at least one illegal drug.

The review is important because research on the value or consequences of happiness, in relation to juvenile crime, has not been studied. Currently, experts believe adolescents’ decisions about crime emerge from attitudes and emotions.

Experts believe reflective thought discourages offending while negative emotions — such as anger or rage —contribute to the decision to commit a crime.

An example of this could be the riots that recently roiled London.

McCarthy and Casey argue 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 write in their study.

Depression may also play a role in unfortunate behavior as the researchers discovered adolescents with minor, or nonclinical, depression had significantly higher odds of engaging in such activities.

Conversely, happier adolescents were less likely to report involvement in crime or drug use.

The study also found that changes in emotions over time matter. Adolescents who experienced a decrease in their level of happiness or an increase in the degree of their depression over a one-year period had higher odds of being involved in crime and of using drugs.

Further, the intensity of emotions is important as most adolescents experience both happiness and depression.

The odds of drug use were notably lower for youth who reported that they were more often happy than depressed, and were substantially higher for those who indicated that they were more depressed than happy.

Source: UC Davis