Finding happiness

According to Unicef’s Child Well-Being in Rich Countries survey, Dutch kids ranked as the happiest in the world, especially when it comes to material well-being, educational well-being, and behavior and risks. After living in the Netherlands for twelve years, nine of those with kids of my own, I’m not surprised.

dutch kidsDutch kids have an extraordinary amount of freedom compared to American kids. My son walked to elementary school ~ all by himself. He rode his bike to the playground and his friends’ houses. If I ran out of milk or bread, I handed him a ten and he hoofed it to the grocery store up the road. And no, I never worried. Villages in the Netherlands are compact, and neighbors look out for each other. My son bounced from friend’s house to friend’s house, and he knew to be home before the street lights flickered on.

Kids have a lot less pressure to perform in the Netherlands, as well. Elementary teachers don’t browbeat their students with historical facts or cram multiplication tables down their throats or make them memorize the constitution, and yet kids still learn at a level comparable to American schools. What’s the secret? When a child enjoys learning, he or she will want to learn more.

Here in the States, my kids can’t walk to school. They can’t bike to most of their friends’ houses or run errands for me. Until they turn sixteen and can drive themselves, they are pretty much at my mercy to take them wherever they want to go.

And school is never done at three o’clock. There’s homework and studying and projects, all leading up to the mother of all pressure cookers: the SATs. On top of her studies, my 9th grade daughter squeezes in volleyball, drama, singing, Dutch lessons, and social commitments six days out of seven. Her Dutch cousins of the same age tease her about being a typical overachieving American teen, and who knows? Maybe they’re right.

Obviously, my family’s reality doesn’t fully fit in either country, and we often find ourselves straddling the two cultures, picking and choosing the aspects from each that most appeal to us. And maybe that’s part of why, despite my kids’ busy, pressure-filled lives, they still seem genuinely happy.

Because ultimately, happiness is a choice.

About Kimberly S. Belle

Kimberly Belle grew up in Eastern Tennessee, in a small town nestled in the foothills of the Appalachians. A graduate of Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia, Kimberly lived for over a decade in the Netherlands and has worked in marketing and fundraising for various nonprofits. She's the author of two novels, THE LAST BREATH and THE ONES WE TRUST (August 2015). She divides her time between Atlanta and Amsterdam. Keep up with Kimberly on Facebook (, Twitter (@KimberlySBelle), or via her website at

Posted on September 27, 2013, in Blog Posts. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Happiness is a choice, Kimberlee. I’m glad you got to experience life in another country and can compare our lifestyle to theirs. Your Dutch experience sounds like my childhood. I wish my kids had those freedoms, too.

  2. I so agree with school ending at 3 o’clock though that’s not really how it is over here. My daughter has about 96 irons in the fire and personally I’m afraid she overbooks herself to the point of causing her unneeded stress.

  3. Children need time to play, Kimberle, so the Dutch are doing it right. I think our kids would be happier and have less problems if society just let him be kids, free to explore their world without the pressure of their “future”.

  4. Absolutely–take the time. We try, but it’s tough.

  5. So true, Kimberle. When I was growing up, I didn’t have enough to do academically. I was bored out of my mind. Now it seems like we’ve gone too far in the other direction. Kids need time to play. Watch a group of puppies or kittens sometime – the things they do for fun also help them develop the skills they need as adults. We should focus less on achievement and more on learning.

%d bloggers like this: