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Raise Great Kids – Teaching Your Child the Art of Happiness

For many parents, raising happy children is the holy grail of parenting success. What makes a happy child who grows into a happy adult? Since happiness is a by-product of emotional health, this article is about helping you raise a happy child, from meeting your infant’s need to be held to be soothed, to helping your child develop optimism. But let’s talk specifically about what makes humans happy.

What do you need to be happy?  A winning lottery ticket?

Happy ParentingThe latest research on happiness gives us surprising answers.  Happiness turns out to be less a result of luck and external circumstance than a product of our own mental, emotional, and physical habits, which create the body chemistry that determines our happiness level.

We all know that some of us tend to be more upbeat than others. Part of this is inborn, just the fate of our genes that give us a happier mood. But much of our mood is habit.

It may seem odd to have happiness referred to as a habit. But it’s likely that by the time we’re adults, we have settled into the habit of being happy, or the habit of being unhappy.

Happiness is closely linked to three kinds of habits:

  1. How we think and feel about the world, and therefore perceive our experiences.
  2. Certain actions or habits, such as regular exercise, eating healthfully, meditating, connecting with other people, even — proven in study after study — regularly smiling and laughing!
  3. Character traits such as self-control, industry, fairness, caring about others, citizenship, wisdom, courage, leadership, and honesty.

Happy ParentingIn practice, these character traits are just habits; tendencies to act in certain ways when confronted with certain kinds of situations. And certainly it makes sense that the more we exhibit these traits, the better our lives work and the better we feel about ourselves, so the happier we are.

Some of the habits that create happiness are visible, the ways Grandma told us we ought to live: work hard, value relationships with other people, keep our bodies healthy, manage our money responsibly, contribute to our community.

Others are more personal habits of self management that insulate us from unhappiness and create joy in our lives, such as managing our moods and cultivating optimism. But once we make such habits part of our lives, they become automatic and serve a protective function.

How can you help your child begin to develop the habits that lead to happiness?

  1. Teach your child constructive habits to control his mind and create happiness: managing our moods, positive self-talk, cultivating optimism, celebrating life, practicing gratitude, and appreciating our connected-ness to each other and the entire universe. Build these into your life together so you model them regularly, and your child will copy you.
  2. Teach your child the self-management habits that create happiness: regular exercise, healthy eating, and meditation are all highly correlated with happiness levels. But you and your child may have your own, more personal strategies; for many people music is an immediate mood lifter, for others a walk in nature always works.
  3. Cultivate fun. The old saying that laughter is the best medicine turns out to be true. The more we laugh, the happier we are! It actually changes our body chemistry. So the next time you and your child want to shake off the doldrums, how about a Marx brothers movie?

Happy ParentingAnd here’s a wonderful tool: smiling makes us happier, even when we force it. The feedback from our facial muscles informs us that we’re happy, and immediately improves our mood. Not to mention the moods of those around us– so that feedback loop uplifts everyone.

  1. Help him learn how to manage his moods. Most people don’t know that they can choose to let bad moods go and consciously change their moods. But practice in doing this can really make us happier.  Of course, we aren’t talking about denial. The first step is always to acknowledge the bad feelings, and let ourselves feel them. So with your child, simply empathizing with her upset feelings will help them start to evaporate.

But there are times when we just stay in a bad mood, rather than nurturing ourselves through the upset, or choosing to change it. That’s just a habit that our brain has gotten into. If you can practice monitoring your own moods and shifting them, through acknowledging the feelings, allowing yourself to feel the emotions, correcting any negative thoughts that are giving rise to the emotions, and nurturing yourself, you’ll be re-wiring your brain. And as you practice this and get better at it, you can teach these skills to your child.

Of course, the hard part is choosing to change a bad mood. While you’re in it, it’s hard to take constructive action to change things. You don’t have to go from desolate to cheerful. Just find a way to help yourself feel slightly better. That empowers you to actually face what’s upsetting you, and try to solve it. Sometimes just changing our the way we’re thinking about a situation really shifts things. So, instead of “How can he be nasty to me like that, with all I do for him?!” you might try “It’s normal for children to get angry at their parents. He’s struggling right now, and he needs me to try to understand him.”

Happy ParentingHow to help your child with her moods?  Sometime when she’s in a good mood, talk with her about strategies for getting into a better mood: what works for her? Share what works for you. Then, when she’s in a bad mood, start by empathizing. After she’s had some time to feel her upset, ask her if she wants help to change her mood.  Even if she’s able to choose a better mood only one out of ten times initially, she’ll soon start to notice how much better her life works when she does it.

  1. Model positive self- talk.We all need a cheerleader to help us over life’s many hurdles. Who says we can’t be our own? In fact, who better? Research shows that happy people give themselves ongoing reassurance, acknowledgment, praise and pep talks.
  2. Cultivate optimism, it inoculates against unhappiness. It’s true that some of us are born more optimistic than others, but we can all cultivate it. Click here for “How you can help your child become more Optimistic”.
  3. Help your child find joy in everyday things.Studies show that people who notice the small miracles of daily life, and allow themselves to be touched by them, are happier. Daily life overflows with joyful occurrences: The show of the setting sun, no less astonishing for its daily repetition. The warmth of connection with the man at the newsstand who recognizes you and your child. The joy of finding a new book by a favorite author at the library. A letter from Grandma. The first crocuses of spring.

As Albert Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” Children learn by our example what’s important in life.

  1. Support your child to prioritize relationships. Research shows that people who are happiest have more people in their lives, and deeper relationships with those people. Teach your child that while relationships take work, they’re worth it.
  2. Help your child develop gratitude.

“We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.” — Frederick Keonig

Many people think they can’t be grateful until they’re happy. But look closely and you’ll find that it’s the opposite: people are happy because they are grateful. People who describe themselves as consciously cultivating gratefulness are rated as happier by those who know them, as well as by themselves.

Children don’t have a context for life, so they don’t know whether they are lucky or unlucky, only that their friend Brendon has more expensive sneakers. But there are many ways to help children learn to cultivate gratitude, which is the opposite of taking everything for granted. The most obvious is modeling it.

  1. Counteract the message that happiness can be bought.As parents, we need to remember that we are not the only ones teaching our children about life. They get the constant media message that the goal of life is more money and more things. Ultimately, what we model and what we tell them will matter more, but we need to confront those destructive messages directly.
  2. Leave room for grief. Life is full of joy, but even for the happiest person it is also full of loss and pain, and we have daily reasons to grieve, large and small. Acknowledging our sad feelings isn’t focusing on the negative, it’s opening ourselves to the full range of being human. Accepting those uncomfortable sad feelings actually deepens our ability to take joy in our lives. Choosing to be happy doesn’t mean repressing our feelings. It means acknowledging and honoring our feelings, and then letting them go.
  3. Help your child learn the joy of contribution.Research shows that the pride of contributing to the betterment of society makes us happier, and it will make our children happier too. Our job as parents is to find ways for them to make a positive difference in the world so they can enjoy and learn from this experience.

“Happiness is a by-product of character. 
In people who are developing
a strong character, there is a dramatically higher 
level of happiness than in those who live to chase 
after the next good time.”
— Pat Holt and Grace Ketterman, MD.

Related Articles:

Happy ParentingHappy Parenting – 11 Questions That Will Make Your Child Happier

Are you naturally carefree and happy? If so, it’s likely a mix of your genetics (identical twins reared apart are usually the same level of happy) and your personal choices about how to live your life. The field of positive psychology centers on the idea that people can make themselves happy just by changing how they think and act. Happiness is conceptualized as more of a habit than a God-given blessing.  And while some of your happiness is biologically determined, there are many things you can do to be happier.

These 11 questions focus your children on how to make themselves happy. Eventually, your children will internalize these questions and ask them in their own heads. Then you’ll have given them the gift of happiness, which will make you so (you guessed it) happy.

  1. What was your favorite part of today?Happy Parenting

This is a good question to ask at bedtime, to help your child feel content and happy before sleep. It also instills a habit of focusing on the best thing that happened in any given day rather than the worst. If you make this part of your bedtime routine, it will become second nature.

  1. What are you grateful for?

This is a good question for the dinner table. Every family member can take a turn saying what he or she is grateful for that day. There is a strong correlation between happiness and gratitude, so this one is very powerful.

  1. What are you going to do about that?

Happy ParentingWhen a child comes to you with a problem, ask this question in a warm and curious tone. Don’t just jump in and solve their problem; how does that help them in the long run? At least give them a chance to work it out on their own, and give them the gift of your confidence in them, which is evident by this question that implies that they can think of solutions to their own issues. If your child says “I don’t know,” you can say, “I am not sure either, let’s try to figure it out together.” Happy people are people who think of problems as surmountable, and think of themselves as effective problem solvers.

  1. How did that make you feel?

At the risk of sounding shrink-y, an essential part of happiness is being able to notice and express your own emotions. If you can verbalize what you’re feeling, you can make sense of it, you can process it, and you can obtain support from others. This is a great question to ask when your child comes to you with something “bad” that happened, instead of either dismissing it (“that wasn’t that bad”) or fixing it (“let mommy get you some ice!”). It trains your child to be aware of his feelings, and to use that information effectively.

  1. What do you think he/she feels?

In any situation, you can cultivate empathy by asking your child to wonder about what someone else feels. Empathy will make your child a happier person; he or she will have stronger interpersonal relationships, feel better about himself for thinking of (and then, often, helping) others, and derive more meaning from life.

  1.  How can we look on the bright side?

In any situation, you can teach your child that there are positives. With preteens or teenagers, this question may be way too corny, but little kids will like it. You can also teach them thHappy Parentinge expression “making lemonade out of a lemon” and ask them how you can make lemonade out of a bad situation, like, “You fell and hurt yourself, so that’s a lemon, but you got a Tinkerbell bandaid, and that’s lemonade! Now you tell Mommy one.”

  1. What part of that can we learn more about?

In any TV show, book, trip outside the house, basically any situation at all, there is something to learn more about. And look at you, Super Parent, you already have your smartphone at the ready!  So this time use it for teaching your child that life is full of learning opportunities.  Happy people are people who are curious and always learning.  So when you watch TV and someone says “Bonjour,” you can look up pictures of France or a YouTube song sung in French. When your child realizes that this question means that you’re going to whip out your phone and show them something new and special, they will ask it to you all the time. And that’s how you end up looking at pictures of real estate in Nebraska with your 4-year-old. Don’t ask.

  1. What do you want to do on the weekend?

Happy ParentingResearch shows that anticipation of positive experiences brings more happiness than the experiences themselves. Once your child is old enough to realize that tomorrow is not today, start instilling a habit of positive anticipation of small pleasures. A child who is excited all week to get frozen yogurt on the weekend is a happy child, just as an adult who plans a vacation six months in advance is happier during those six months.

  1. What can we do to help/to make someone happy?

Bringing your child along to visit a sick relative, or someone recovering from surgery, or to volunteer at a soup kitchen is a wonderful gift that you can give to your child. Your child will feel even more proud of his behavior if he is the one to think up the nice thing that can be done (e.g., baking cookies to deliver, drawing a card). Research shows that giving even releases oxytocin and endorphins, so it’s like a high that your child can become addicted to. Also, involve your child in your charitable activities, as giving charity is a form of altruism that is also linked directly to happiness (and just to being a good person, which you also want for your child).

Incorporate a spirit of generosity into your child’s daily life. Whenever you’re out, buy something little for someone else.  When you color, make a picture for someone else. Giving things Happy Parentingto others makes people happier than buying things for themselves, and enriches interpersonal relationships.

  1. What do you want to do outside today?

Getting outside and engaging in physical activities alongside your child is a wonderful way to get him or her in the habit of not just sitting around. Exercise releases endorphins and is as effective at treating depression as SSRI’s. And the most powerful way that you can teach your child about exercise is to do it yourself. Children whose mothers exercise are more likely to exercise themselves. And sunlight can also help boost mood and regulate circadian rhythms, which means better sleep for your kids, which makes everyone happier.

  1. When do you feel happiest?

If you direct your children’s attention to the experiences that they most enjoy, they will start to realize that they can choose to proactively increase their time spent in activities that make them feel best about themselves.  According to researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, “flow” is the state where people find an activity so enjoyable and rewarding that they become completely immersed in it, losing all sense of time and feeling completely in the moment. If your child is lucky enough to have found an activity that makes him feel a sense of “flow,” it is helpful for you to point this out and allow your child enough time to attain this state. Note: for many kids this is video gaming, which is actually fine, since a great deal of research points to many psychological benefits of gaming (and anecdotally, I know many people who met their spouses while gaming, and gaming actually brings spouses closer if both participate!). The best case scenario is for your child to find a career that puts him into “flow,” since then, as the saying goes, he will never “work” a day in his life.


Samantha Rodman PhD
Mom, Psychologist, DrPsychMom.com

Original appeared here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/samantha-rodman-phd/11-questions-that-will-make-your-child-happier_b_6401788.html?ir=India