How to Teach Your Kids to Choose Happiness

“Some pursue happiness – others create it.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

We all know how the stories go: Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty overcome adversity, and all three go on to live happily ever after with their princes.

For most children, these stories are their introduction to the promise of happiness. It’s a magical destination, full of tangible things. Once they reach this idealized place, they are magically transformed into blissful beings like all their favorite Disney characters.

But what if rather than teach our kids to strive for a “happily ever after,” we show them that happiness isn’t a destination, but a choice?

Chasing After the Wrong Things

While the circumstances to attain happiness vary from person to person, the goal is pretty much universal. We all want to feel content and satisfied with our lives.

The problem with happiness is that we often attach it to something outside of ourselves – whether it’s material things or achievements and goals. So when we do manage to obtain those things we sought, we find ourselves once again looking for something new to chase after and happiness becomes elusive.

It’s not that we shouldn’t want to be happy, or that we should believe that happiness is fickle. The problem is the belief that we need to seek out happiness outside of ourselves in the first place.

Happiness is a Concept

There is a proverb about an old cat watching a young cat chase its tail in circles. The old cat asks the younger cat, “What are you doing?” The young cat replies, “I am chasing my tail, because I was told that if I caught it, I would find happiness.” After a moment, the old, wise cat says with a smile, “Well, look at me, I don’t chase my tail, it just follows me wherever I go.”

Happiness isn’t something that we can claim, nor is it anything we can give to our children. It’s an abstract and elusive concept that someone told us we must have, but in reality, one that only leaves us eternally disappointed and frustrated when we chase it.

Happiness is Physical and Spiritual

Many scientists believe in a mind / body connection and have mapped emotions to various parts of the body. Science argues that we have very limited control over our autonomic nervous system, thus we can’t just choose to be happy, but is that really true?

“A man is about as happy as he makes his mind up to be,” are the wise words of Abe Lincoln who makes us at least wonder if somewhere within us all isn’t the key to move beyond our biology and choose happiness.

Nature may have wired us to be more negative than positive in order to survive, but that only means each of us has to dig deeper within our self to discover what happiness means to us personally.

We have been taught to listen to our brain which tells us that happiness is external, but the real answer to lasting happiness could very well be locked inside where our true self lies.

The reason most people never find lasting happiness is because they are conditioned to believe that happiness is a destination that they will eventually reach with hard work or perseverance, and are quickly disappointed when they don’t find what they want.

Choosing Happiness

The best way to teach your children how to be happy is to help them discover that happiness doesn’t find them but that they choose happiness. To help, you can begin by putting a greater emphasis on all the positives in life rather than focusing on its stresses:

  • Focus on the good stuff: Spend some time each day talking about all the good things that happened that day. It’s easy to fall into a trap where we only see the downsides – the things that hurt us or got under our skin. But it’s even more important to recognize the positives.
  • Make time for laughter: The health benefits of laughter don’t get the attention that they deserve. Laughter is the simplest way to reduce your stress and tension, and lighten your mental load. It enhances your oxygen intake, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain. So whatever makes you laugh, make sure you have plenty of access to it daily.
  • Share the joy: Whether it’s on a weekly basis or monthly, make time to volunteer for some of your favorite causes. When kids give to others and feel like an active agent in spreading happiness, their own joy will also increase.
  • Don’t be your worst enemy: If you notice your child giving into negative thoughts and engaging in unproductive self-criticism, put on the brakes. Teach your children not to give into harsh judgments about themselves or others.
  • Teach your kids how to let go: Too often we make mountains out of mole hills that really don’t warrant them. Show your kids how to come up with solutions for those problems or conflicts that can be resolved. For everything else that’s out of their control, teach them the power of letting go.

Just like the wise old cat, teach your children to stop chasing after happiness and instead embrace the notion that happiness is something that they have the power to choose.

What does happiness mean to you? How do you teach your own kids to choose happiness? Share your thoughts and advice in the comments below!

Tags : conscious parenting   mindful parenting   emotional health   

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