Fresh Ideas: Teach your child how to be happy
February 6, 2013
While happiness has always been a core topic in society, in recent years there has been an enormous focus on the How, Why, and Who of happiness. Academic research, conferences, books, articles, world graphs, and the electronic press have sought to help people seek meaningful relationships, meaningful work, and to improve self-care so they can up their “happiness quotient.” Research shows it works: Those who make these things priorities tend to feel more joyful. To date, most of these efforts have been focused on adults. Yet, when asked, most parents state their children’s happiness is of upmost importance. Parents can significantly increase their children’s ability to craft their own happiness, for a lifetime, and it’s easier than you might think. As early as elementary school, children can understand concepts that will help them focus on “happy life skills” such as interacting with others more positively. For example, children benefit from information like, “Most kids want to hang out with other kids who are nice, calm and who play fair,” or, “When you point out to your friend that you got a better grade than him, he probably feels bad. It’s better not to say things that might make people feel bad because most people want to hang out with people who make them feel good about themselves.” Similarly, children of all ages can understand the importance of keeping focused on positive thoughts, positive people and positive activities. Tell your children, “Happy people keep their brain focused on good things that have happened. They do fun things and hang out with people who make them feel good,” and, “When they feel bad, they talk to someone about it and figure out how to feel better.” These ideas have to be reinforced regularly and vary upon the child’s age. As children enter the middle school and high school years, these ideas can become more nuanced and sophisticated to help them navigate the turmoil of adolescence. While these words and concepts may sound familiar and even obvious to parents, the sales of “How to Win Friends and Influence People” attest to just how complicated these skills can be to master — for all of us — especially when we are trying to change an already ingrained pattern. It’s the same concept of muscle memory in sports. Recently, sales of parenting books focused on character traits as the key to success, such as “How Children Succeed,” illustrate parents’ new interest in this topic for their children. But, of course, all effective character traits are better learned when a child has a foundation of happiness and an ease of interaction with the world, and those learned character traits and behaviors begin to gel earlier than we realize. We parents play a huge role in teaching our children (and ourselves) how to be happy. • Lisa Keating, Ph.D., is a Carson City clinical psychologist.