Three Ways to Raise Happy People
Surprising tips on setting kiddos up for a lifetime of happiness … and success (In that order).
Parents go to great lengths—from Baby Einstein DVDs to cutthroat pre-school applications—in order to give their kids a leg up in our competitive world. Ensuring our children grow into “successful” adults often feels (along with keeping the littles, you know, alive and intact) like our primary job description. We want this, ostensibly, because we want our kids to be happy. But a mountain of recent scientific research on the relationship between success and happiness indicates that we’ve been approaching it all wrong. Which is to say, backwards.
I just finished reading The Happiness Advantage, by a leading expert on the subject, Shawn Achor (He helped develop Harvard’s famous “happiness course” and delivers lectures to business executives worldwide). The book is mostly about happiness in the workplace; despite our collective belief that if we work hard—at all costs—and become successful, we will then be happy, in fact happier people meet with more success as a byproduct of their outlooks and dispositions. As Achor told me, “A decade of research can be summed up like this: happiness is a choice, happiness spreads, and happiness is an advantage. Happiness is the fuel of success, not merely the result of it. If your success rates rise, happiness remains the same. If you raise happiness by increasing optimism, social connection, and changing how you view stress, every single educational and business outcome improves.”
So what does this have to do with parenting? Everything. We all want our kids to be happy, among other things. But helping them to be happy people will enable everything else to fall into place. So we can focus on happiness. Full stop. Isn’t that awesome news?
I’m not talking about giving our kids everything they want all the time, or attempting to spare them the full range of human emotion. I’m talking about helping them develop a sense of optimism and a habit of happiness that will serve them, consciously and unconsciously, throughout their lives. How, you ask? I read Achor’s book through a parenting lens, and pulled out three key points for raising happy people:
1. Use Your Words
Let’s be real. Unhappiness happens. But Achor writes about the “undoing effect” that positive emotions have on our bodies and minds in the face of negative ones. Basically, even a few encouraging words can “undo” the effects—both emotional and physiological—of negativity. As parents, we’re in a perfect position to lift our children up and teach them to respond positively in the face of negative events or circumstances, or to simply provide frequent encouragement to our kiddos throughout the day. The language we use—and, more importantly, the way we say what we say—is crucial.
My preschooler, Kaspar, recently stayed home from school with a bad cough. Instead of referring to the day as a “sick day,” I called it a “get well day.” All day. The reasons behind his staying home and the actions we were taking to help him recover didn’t change, but I chose language that focused on the positive outcome—rather than the negative cause. And instead of lamenting how terrible he felt, Kaspar spent the day happily coloring, and following my instructions to drink obscene amounts of fluids, without (much) push-back. A small choice of words made a big difference in how we both felt, and Kaspar recovered more quickly, I’m convinced, than he would have if we’d focused on his feeling gross.
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