If we can accept five basic life principles we can be way ahead of the curve when it comes to bringing happiness to our kids.
When you ask most parents what they want for their children they say, “I want my children to be happy.” When this is our deepest want for our child, it becomes our obsession and drives how we interact with them. We let them know what they must do to be happy. Then we compel them to spend 20 or so years in school to achieve what we told them will make them happy. If they’re still on talking terms with us at this point, there’s a chance they will confide in us that the basket we placed all our eggs in to make them happy, well, had a few holes in it, to say the least. If we’re very lucky they’re part of the 10% of America who is happy with their career and life. If we weren’t struck by the lightening of luck, they’re as unhappy as 90% of our country.
So where are we going wrong? Believe it or not, this is a lot simpler than you might think. If we can accept five basic life principles, we can be way ahead of the curve when it comes to bringing happiness to our kids. Here they are:
- A child is an independent person, they are not an extension of you.
- You don’t get to choose who your child is.
- You can’t make your child or anyone other than yourself, happy.
- The most important thing your child needs from you is the knowledge that you love them for who they are. This is the single greatest contributing factor you can offer your child toward making them happy.
- Spend more time supporting your children discovering who they are than who they should become.
I want to be clear. It is very important that we be happy. Happiness is a most important and extremely powerful emotional state which we should strive to be in as often as possible. When we are happy, we are expansive. Limiting beliefs don’t live in the mind of a happy person. We see true possibilities that we are often blinded to. We easily overlook inconveniences and other people’s faults. We find solutions we ordinarily wouldn’t discover.
However, the irony of happiness is that the more we seek it the more elusive it is. It is one of those things which finds us, we don’t find it. Happiness is not a product you can find. It’s a byproduct. When we develop a healthy perspective on life and live our lives based on healthy values, happiness shows up more and more. This is also why there are so many studies today that all say the same thing. The secret to happiness is doing for others. How can that be? How can doing something for you make me happy? Because happiness is a byproduct. It’s not something I can do for me. It’s an outcome of things that I do. Particularly, it’s an outcome of doing for things or people outside of me. So should we spend our time doing things for our children that will give them momentary happiness or should be spending our time instilling a perspective and values that will always provide them with happiness?
This is also why teaching our children many things which are uncomfortable lead to them being happy. Our natural instinct as parents is to protect our children, defend them and always make them feel good. However, we all know that our child will never learn how to ride their bike unless we let go, giving them space to both get hurt and develop a new skill. In exactly the same way, our children develop when we give them the space to figure out their squabbles with a friend or owning a decision that is age appropriate for them. Support them when they make an unwise decision and point out to them how well they’re doing when they make a wise one. Let them know that no matter how they do, you love and embrace them for going through the process of learning how to make choices. This is called loving them for who they are. As child psychologist, Haim Ginott writes, “The measure of a good parent is what he’s willing not to do for his child.”
The Grant Study, one of the longest-running longitudinal studies of human development, discovered that people who develop a mentality that when something needs to get done, it may as well be them and the need to contribute to the greater whole, usually do much better in the workplace. This is something anyone can develop, whether you do or don’t have the money or intelligence to get into an Ivy League school. The Grant Study demonstrates that teaching our children these values will do more for their success in the future than any ivy league degree.
Do I need to take my kids to Disney World to make them happy? If their friends just went, should I feel like a bad parent because I can’t make them happy? Does taking our kids to Disney World make a child happy? No. It gives them a pleasurable experience and great bonding time with those who they go with. There can be many benefits from such a trip, but it does not make them happier people. The issue isn’t whether we should or should not take our kids to Disney World. The issue is only one thing, being aware that this is not what makes children happy and that a parent who for whatever reason can’t take their kids, shouldn’t feel like their kids are now deprived.
I block the internet on my teenage kid’s phones and iPods. Do I feel that I’m making my kids unhappier? Absolutely not. I would argue that they are being taught the importance of self-control, not living like the Jones’s but living life on their own terms. They may fuss about it, but things will never be the true source of one’s happiness.
So how dedicated are we to our children’s happiness? I have no doubt that in our heart of hearts every parent is truly dedicated to their children’s happiness. I also know that in reality, what our children need for happiness can be counterintuitive. It can also require that we do things which are uncomfortable for us to ensure that they grow into happy adults. So I ask you, “Are you ready to commit yourself to making yourself more uncomfortable so your child can be happier?”