There are so many things that drive me crazy. Mixing coloureds and whites, dirty dishes left on the counter, Lego on the stairs. And click-baity headlines.
“Potty train your child in 3 days.”
“Teach your kid to sleep in her own bed this weekend.”
Nope, that’s not a real one. I wish it was, sure to be a bestseller. Then last week I read one that stopped me in my tracks – How to teach our children the art of happiness. It started me thinking – why aren’t children happy? Why aren’t we raising happy kids? Their lives are simple, carefree, little responsibilities. They don’t have to make dinner in 20 minutes while doing three other things. Children should already be happy.
Raising Happy Kids
But this article wasn’t just about teaching your child to be happy in the moment. It was about the art of happiness. Teach them skills that they can use to be happy when they are adults.
Lauren Knight, for the Washington Post says we toilet train them, we teach them self-care and manners, we teach them how to read, what to do in an emergency, how to cross the street safely. But can we teach them how to be happy?
I was really struck by the parallels in our home. My two children are the complete opposite of each other even though they share the same gene pool, parents and even blood group. B+ which has also become the mantra in our home. Be Positive and things will fall into place.
Knight went on to quote Mike Ferry, a long-time middle school teacher, father of four and author of Teaching Happiness and Innovation. He says contrary to what many believe, success does not always bring happiness; instead research shows that to some extent the reverse is true — happier people are less likely to be successful at school, work, and in their personal lives.
It turns out we can teach our children how to be happy by encouraging certain habits. Life skills that will hopefully follow them into adulthood.
Making Gratitude A Habit
My family and I go back to India often and nowhere else are the differences more clear, more stark. The difference between the people who think “more is better” and the rest who feel “I will be happy if I can stay alive today”.
That’s where the importance of saying no comes in. Our kids are constantly inundated with the idea that they need the next new gadget or toy; their friends have it so they must too. They see it in the marketing thrown at them every time they turn the TV on and it follows them onto the school playground.
“You’re so lucky your parents got you an iPad.” Are we?
Knight says teaching children to be grateful in a world of overabundance can seem like a daunting task. It is easy to get sucked into the consumer mentality of society. Perhaps if we could help them understand that no isn’t denial as much as being happy with what we have. Knight even suggests observing a “moment of gratitude” or keeping a daily gratitude journal.
Kindness. To each other and yourself
Ferry highlights research that has shown a link between the “feel-good” brain chemical dopamine and kindness. Acting with kindness increases the flow of dopamine within the do-gooder’s brain, making him feel happy. My daughters have entered that phase where they fight a lot. “Be kind” I find myself saying to them all the time. But it starts from us.
If we can model kind, tolerant behaviour in our adult relationships perhaps our kids will pick it up from us.
Admitting that we are not in control
I am still learning this one. There are so many things that are not in our control. Accept them. Whatever the reason, whatever our belief – God, Fate, Destiny or pure, simple coincidence. We can try our hardest for the school writing competition or talent show…we should always try. But really all we can do is try. This translates very well to my upbringing in India where I learnt that the Bhagwad Gita, the holy book of Hindus says,
“Karma kar. Phal ki chinta mat kar.”
Translated this means – focus on the action and the result is out of your control. Accept that the result was never in our control.
We all want our kids to be happy – now and in the future. Parents will go to many lengths to make that happen. But happiness is a state that needs to be worked at, it doesn’t just fall into our laps. Raising happy kids means our kids need help to develop the skills that they will need in the future – much like swimming or pedalling. We could start small like the things we are grateful for – a family that loves us, supportive friends, our ability to change.
We could start simply by counting our blessings.