Finding Happiness

Happiness is the meaning and purpose in life,

the whole aim and end of human existence.    – Aristotle

I used to think that happiness was overrated, kind of a superficial goal. As I get older, however, I realize that I most admire those around me who appear content, those people who seem to have achieved some kind of peaceful joy in their lives.

Researchers are actually developing a field called Positive Psychology, in which they study peoples’ sense of well-being rather than mental illness. This is good news.

When I ask parents about goals for their children, happiness is always one of the first things on their minds – I want my child to be happy. But happiness is elusive for many. You have probably already discovered that that buying them stuff, doing what children want and even giving in to them against your better judgement has not resulted in happiness. So where the heck does happiness reside?

You might be surprised.

Happiness is a skill that we can teach our children, according to Christine Carter of the Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley University. She indicates that nearly half of the factors that determine children’s happiness can be attributed to the environments in which they are raised. Happiness isn’t just a good mood or cheerful disposition. Happiness is characterized by gratitude for and acceptance of our past and optimism and confidence in the future. Children learn to think about the world through their experiences and relationships with others. They learn different ways of thinking, feeling and acting from their interactions with us and others, from what they observe in us and others.

So how can you help your kids to be happy?

The first day of summer is drawing near. School is almost out.  The world around us is bursting with color and new growth. Most of us are feeling excited about summer’s possibilities. And yet, will this anticipated joy be realized? What does it take to have a happy summer? We do everything right, but may not feel that joy, that sweetness that we remember or long for. What’s the problem? I plan to kick off summer with a series of brief blogs about this delightful topic of happiness. While many of you know, I discourage “don’t” messages for kids, here are a few I think you may appreciate in your quest for happiness as the days get longer:

1. Don’t over-schedule yourself or your children. Some parents seem to believe that busy-ness leads to happiness. I am betting you’ve already noticed, it doesn’t work. But sometimes it is hard to slow down and allow the empty space. Go for it – you may be surprised. One of the things that was wonderful about the children’s show, “Mr Rogers,” was his pace. Watch some re-runs. You’ll remember how to breathe. Even if you feel anxious about down time, try it. Unstructured play time for children is beneficial in many ways, including teaching them self-discipline.

2. Don’t focus on your kids’ happiness instead of your own. Kids do what we do. Find your happiness and engage in it now. Start your own gratitude practices. Don’t think that putting your own well-being off until your kids grow up is a gift to your children. Take some time to think about what YOU love about summer and do some of that regularly!

3. Don’t neglect your romantic relationships. Yes, more about you – if you are in a relationship, focus on that connection. Children don’t need to come first to be happy. In fact, the research suggests that you take this one step further. Get your sex life back on track. Many parents find that focusing on children or conflicts about the division of labor in raising a family can negatively impact parents’ sexual connection. According to Carter, parents who are in happy, healthy relationships tend to be warmer and more responsive to their children, more consistent disciplinarians and model happiness for their children.

So make it a good summer for both you and your children. Slow down, connect and find some fun in your life. Remember, it is a gift to your kids.

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