Well, right off the bat, I have to apologize…the title of this post is a bit misleading. Yes, I’m going to outline several ways to help our children learn how to be happy, but maybe not the way you might have thought.
The misconception is that happiness is some tangible end we achieve, and once we do, it’s ours forever. The reality is, happiness is something we have to work on consistently, every day. In other words, happiness isn’t a goal, it’s a way of life.
We would never want someone to walk around and periodically snap at us, “Smile!” “Be Happy!” and give us no allowance to feel sorrow, anger, frustration, or any other myriad of emotions. Similarly, we shouldn’t demand our children cast aside their relevant emotions and simply, be happy.
Instead, let us teach our children the tools they can use to process through emotions and overcome stumbling blocks that are preventing them from being happy. Thus, giving them the tools to be happy children, adolescents, and fully-functioning adults!
To teach your children how to be happy, teach them these 10 things.
Teaching our children to be resilient moves from saying, “dust yourself off” after they fall at the playground, to “Mistakes are proof that you are trying”, when they encounter other failures as they grow up.
The problem with teaching our children to adopt a growth mindset that allows them to learn from failures, is that we have to believe it ourselves. As parents, we all know (though we fiercely hope otherwise) that children can see through a lot. If we want our children to learn to be resilient and see failures as opportunities for learning and growth, we have to practice what we preach.
Adopting a growth mindset is vital in children. It prevents them from equating their self-worth with their performance—whether that be academic, physical, spiritual, etc. To teach this to our children, we must take pause with them in the midst of their disappointments and failings and ask them what they learned from the experience: How did they prepare? How did they perform? What have they learned in hindsight? What will they do differently next time?
Resist the urge to make these moments grueling—you are not the coach reviewing missed routes and tackles. Instead, carry with you a light-hearted spirit, humor, and above all, reassurance that your love is not conditional on their mistakes. This will allow their sorrows to heal and more quickly revert to happiness.
While Gratitude goes beyond just saying “thank you”, teaching kids to express thanks for everything is a great place to start. In a way, it is simultaneously teaching them to think more selflessly. When kids say, “thank you for driving me”, they are recognizing that you took time out of your schedule to perform an act of service for them.
Gratitude acts like an avalanche: once we start recognizing small acts of service others perform for us (and expressing thanks for them), we find reasons to be grateful everywhere around us. When we see the world around us with a grateful heart, we are more likely to see reasons to be happy.
Teaching children—particularly teenagers—to count their blessings is also a great coping mechanism in times of sorrow, anger, or self-pity. Challenge your children to make a list of blessings before they fall asleep at night or first thing when they wake up in the morning. When I wake up on the wrong side of the bed, counting my blessings removes the feelings of self-pity, and immediately instills a happier, more positive outlook on life.
For smaller children, taking a moment to recognize just one thing they are grateful for helps re-establish the “proper perspective” when dealing with disappointments. While being disappointed is okay, dwelling on it until it grows into resentment, anger, or feelings of failure, is not. Redirect disappointments into learning experiences by teaching your children to counterbalance their disappointments with gratitude.
I think we often think of teenagers when we think of issues of self-worth, but those holes in our self-esteem start much, much younger. (See my story about my 5-year old daughter here.)
There’s a video that’s recently gone viral about a little girl who has smashed her finger in a door, and the way that her mother coaches her through it is so beautiful it makes me wish I had seen it before I started parenting 20 years ago.
Some might question why the mother prompts her daughter to say, “I’m beautiful”, “I’m loved”, or “I’m worthy” after something as seemingly trivial as pinching her finger. What we should be asking ourselves is, why would we not take every opportunity we have to reinforce these beliefs in our children?
Self-love comes when our children understand that they are strong, capable, beautiful, loved, and most importantly, worthy. When they know this from inside their own heart and mind, they are protected from outside influences that would take advantage of them, abuse them, and destroy their happiness.
Do whatever you can each day to reinforce the understanding that they are worthy, and stop seeking validation and acceptance from others. That knowledge will insulate their hearts, protect their bodies, and ensure spiritual growth.
“None of us come to this earth to gain our worth; we brought it with us.”Sheri Dew
4. Hard work & Service
During my youth, this area—hard work & service—must have been a source of repeated frustration for my parents. It’s not that I was a particularly lazy child, but these two things always made me feel happy, and yet, I continued to resist doing either of them!
Courtesy of Karma, I have been blessed with such a child, myself. My oldest son is a good worker. And when he works hard, he is so much happier than the times he sits by doing nothing. He is more energetic, his attitude towards others is kinder, and it’s contagious—he looks for opportunities to do more.
Not only that, but like all of us, he stands a little taller, taking pride when a job is well-done. In 20 years of parenting, I have observed that there is no faster way to help your children cast off negative feelings to such a degree that they are bursting with joy, than through service to others.
Like establishing good habits (in Part Two of this post), teaching children to value work requires a lot of patience from the parents. Our children might one day recognize that they feel happier after working hard and giving heartfelt service to others; or they might never admit it. The reward isn’t in the admission that we were right. It’s watching their happiness increase.
It makes me sad that the “Fear of Missing Out” has become such a prevalent thing, we’ve given a name to it (FOMO). This fear tells us that we need to run around and chase after happiness. It says that happiness is elusive, and without the right experiences, people, and material possessions, we’re going to miss out!
Contentment is a forgotten virtue. Adversarial voices would try and convince us that being content is equal to being lazy; that contentedness equates to a lack of ambition. This is taking the truth and twisting it.
The truth is, we believe the lie that happiness exists in things or other tangibles, and when that thing doesn’t magically produce happiness, we convince ourselves we’ve made a mistake, and focus on acquiring the next thing—convinced that this one will do the trick! And so, the cycle continues.
“People tend to overvalue what they don’t have and undervalue what they do.”Jordan B. Peterson
To keep your children from chasing happiness, teach them two things. First, that happiness isn’t connected to stuff. Second, to value what they have. Gratitude and Contentment go hand-in-hand. When our children can look around and be grateful for what they already have, that will bring contentment.
When we are content with who we are, where we are, and what we have, we are blessed with a happiness that only peace can give us.
To Be Continued…
Part Two on Monday will continue with 5 more lessons we can teach our children–and review ourselves!
Until then, I would love to hear the experiences you’ve had with your own children, helping them overcome their hurdles to happiness. Drop a comment below!