Many years ago, a Snoopy cartoon that said “Why Me?” decorated my office door. I divided weeks, and thus my happiness quotient, into pretty good, so-so, and not so good. It all depended on how my day or week “had gone”.
In time, what has taken place during the week has become less relevant. Yes, there are some weeks or periods of time that are more intense, busier, or have unexpected more challenging turns.
Happiness is a well-researched subject. Although studies vary in exact percentages, most agree that happiness is partly genetic, partly life circumstances, and partly under one’s own control. All the studies agree that when life’s basic needs of safety, food and shelter are taken care of, sweeps takes, accomplishments, wins, good grades, and new cars only provide short-term happiness. Some more recent studies show that, with training, and validated by brain scans, even many genetic propensities can be reversed.
We all want our children to be happy and not to struggle, not to hurt. It’s so easy, in this beautiful desire for happy children, to sometimes “overdo for them”, or to keep them from learning from mistakes.
The fact is that the proven tools of developing happiness come from “building the muscles” of habits that contribute to happiness.
- Decrease time spent in future worry or reliving the past, and increase time in the present. This includes regular watching sunsets, petting animals, smelling roses, feeling feet walking, in other words, being present with the senses in daily life. This comes naturally to kids. When we join them in the miracle of the present, we give them the message that enjoyment of what is in front of us in the moment can continue through adulthood.
- Practice neutrally noticing, accepting, and acknowledging feelings, and learn and experience what to do with stronger feelings. There are no bad feelings. Strong emotions lose their grip when we learn to recognize and accept feelings and cope with them. Because it’s hard for children to answer the question, “How are you feeling?”, we can reflect how they or another child in their situation might be feeling.
- Develop of a habit of genuine and specific appreciation, and acknowledgement of ourselves and others. Practice strategic specific appreciations, rather than a ton of “good jobs”.
- Switch from a victim point of view to one of learning, meaning, responsibility, and growth to one where fault and blame is not the issue. Encourage a growth mindset of effort, commitment, and learning as part of life.
- Mend relationships and give simply from the spirit of giving. The story of Scrooge reminds us of the immense value of loving connection, healing relationships, and service from the heart. Model and help children reflect on how they are feeling and what they value in both the up and down world of relationships and the experience of generosity.
Our culture can value extreme work over family and natural pleasure, and victimization over learning and responsibility without blame. The commitment to happiness habits is up to each of us, and to each of us supporting each other.
May you be well, joyful, healthy, and happy.