You are only as happy as your happiest family member?!

Many times I hear parents bemoaning a problem that their child is having either at school or with siblings and I know the pain that this causes. All parents want their children to be happy—in fact, researchers have found that 85% of all American parents proclaim this to be their biggest parenting goal: “I just want my children to be happy”. The other 15% want their kids to be successful, God-fearing, college-graduates, etc. No matter what, though, we all state that happiness is the main goal, the main desire for most parents.

We all know that we can’t make anyone happy and that happiness comes from inside and not from material things or from getting what we want, but still, when our kids have a satisfying time at a party or come home and chatter happily about their school day, we feel equally satisfied and happy. Somehow, we’ve “provided” this happy life for our kids and that’s wonderful.

Happiness comes from inside….

One of the surprises of research on happiness is this: when we pretend to be happy (smiling, nodding, etc.) often we begin to feel happy. Using the muscles in our faces to smile actually causes a feeling of happiness to grow. When we ask our children, “What made you feel happiest today?” kids will tend to answer honestly and will even feel happy while answering the question. Thinking about happiness makes us happy.

The reverse is true. “What was the worst thing that happened at school, today?” can elicit answers that are also both true and misery-making. Sometimes parents will tell me that every day their child cries about an event in school or feels sad or overwhelmed about the schoolwork. I ask the same kids, during a downtime or during general talk at lunch, “What made you happiest this morning?” and kids might mention some of the same issues that parents are worried about.  For example, a very sensitive student might note that she/he hates to be teased, but if I respond, “I bet you know how to handle it, though, don’t you?”  They often smile and say “I don’t care if someone teases me or not, I just say, I’m not listening, and they go away.”  What’s the truth, here?  Are they feeling miserable about being teased or are they feeling proud of knowing how to handle it?  Probably both are true. Feelings are like that—so confusing and so much affected by context.

We sometimes need to be reminded how lucky we are in this moment.

A young lady in my family worried aloud about getting into the “in-crowd” in 10th grade and talk went around the table with aunts and uncles and cousins making suggestions and offering advice. One of the grandparents said, “Even if you don’t get more popular, you are lucky to have three or four really good friends, though—I bet that makes you happy, too.” Immediately the 10th grader agreed with a smile, “My friends are so important to me.” Later, I asked the grandparent about this and she said, “My granddaughter doesn’t want to be in the popular group, they move too fast for her. She just needs to be reminded that she does have friends that love her just like she is. It’s always good to remind kids how lucky they are right now.”  The grandparent had lived through very rough times in the depression as a young girl and her mother always reminded her of how lucky she was right at this minute.

Every day gratitude practice does work.

I often remember that when I see the idea of gratitude coming up more and more in magazines. If we can find things to be grateful for, it improves our feeling of happiness. If we can start the day with a happy state of mind, it improves the way our whole morning goes. I told the circle time kids that my new morning motto was: Big sky, Blue Sky, Bright Sun, Happy Day.  I don’t know why, but just saying that phrase as I drive to work makes the morning happier. Recently at a funeral, one of the speakers reminded the group of how often the fellow we were remembering would tell women he ran into during the course of the day, how beautiful they looked; and how often he would begin conversations with, “Have you ever seen a sky so blue and beautiful?” and how it made everyone feel happier, just to be around him. Something to think about.