We send our kids to school to learn how to read and write and to study maths, geography, history and other subjects. We ferry them around to after-school clubs so they can learn how to swim, play football and dance. Yet the one thing we don’t actively teach them, the one goal common to all human beings, is how to be happy.
We’re all united in our desire for our kids to grow into happy, healthy adults. And yet we hope that they may stumble upon happiness along the way, often we don’t think we can actually teach them how to be happy. We assume if they work and play hard, success will come to them and happiness will follow.
But what if this ‘fingers crossed’ approach is not enough? Can we do more than simply hope our kids will be happy?
Numerous studies conducted on the subject of happiness have shown that external factors can’t be relied upon to bring about a long-term, sustained happiness. Money, career success, fame and other ‘things’ may result in a short-term buzz of happiness, but this type of happiness never lasts. When it runs out we begin chasing the next object of desire, because we believe just one more thing will make us happy.
This can lead to a lifetime of chasing and believing ‘If only I had that elusive object then I would be happy.’
I spent long enough playing that game.
As it turns out what I considered happiness to be and what it actually is are two different things. My idea of happiness was actually pleasure – the pleasure of receiving a coveted object or achieving a work or study goal. Pleasure is great, but it never lasts.
Real, long-lasting happiness requires a different mind-set. It’s about appreciating what you have and realising that the best things in life can’t be bought. It’s having the emotional intelligence to recognise life as a series of ups and downs – ongoing change and transformation. It’s the ability to enjoy the ride, without constantly hankering after the destination. It requires continual work on mindfulness and gratitude.
So can we teach our kids to be happy? I think we can – anyone can study happiness and learn how to attain it. Happiness can be found within all of us, whatever our circumstances, if we just know where to look.
So my plan is to send my kids to Happiness School. They don’t actually have to go anywhere, or even know they are studying. The findings of years of research into happiness can be revealed to them in ways they can understand. I firmly believe I can help them develop a happiness habit which will serve them well into their adult lives.
So sharpen your pencils and open your notebooks…Our Happiness School will cover the following modules:
The longest human study of all time spanned 75 years and tracked hundreds of men from their late teens well into their eighties. Every few years the men, who were all from very diverse backgrounds, were interviewed and subjected to various physical and psychological tests.
The results showed that over their lifetimes, their happiness was not reliant on their social status, how rich or poor they were or whether they had successful careers. The happiest (and healthiest) were those who had good relationships – with their spouses, family and friends.
The study proves that money and ‘stuff’ do not bring about happiness, nor does standing or class. It is our relationships and interactions with other human beings which define how happy we are. Robert Waldinger, director of the research, explains the findings in his fascinating TED talk, ‘What Makes A Good Life? Lessons From The Longest Study On Happiness’.
What does this mean for my kids? They need to learn how to be a good friend, to get involved with their local communities and to show kindness, tolerance and understanding to all human beings. They need to learn the art of forgiveness, compassion and empathy.
In short, if they are able to have close and healthy relationships throughout their lives, they are more likely to be happy.
Life is a series of ups and downs. Things go our way for a while and then suddenly the bottom is pulled out from under us. And so it goes on, as we ride the wheel of fortune with its inevitable highs and lows.
The trick is to not get too attached to any of it. Emotional intelligence is being able to stand back and observe from a distance, to know that good days and bad days will pass and this is how life is.
It isn’t possible to be happy or in a good mood all of the time. So when things aren’t so great, the emotionally intelligent ride it out in the knowledge that nothing is permanent. They control their emotions instead of being led by them.
Everything constantly changes. If my kids are able to understand and control their emotions, they will be able to cultivate a deep, internal happiness which is not reliant on what goes on in the world around them.
Research shows that those who appreciate all the good things in their lives, instead of continually noticing what they are lacking, are happier, more content and fulfilled than those who don’t. There are so many things we take for granted in our lives – food, running water, our homes, healthcare, education etc.
If I can teach my kids to work on being grateful for all their blessings, studies show they will be happier adults who worry less.
A Healthy Relationship With Failure
We will all fail during our lives. I want to teach my kids not to be afraid of failure and how to learn from it instead. They needn’t believe they can only be happy if they are successful. Actually the opposite must surely be true: those who are happy are the most successful.
Our successes and failures shouldn’t be compared to those of others. In fact, any kind of comparison is a bad idea. As Theodore Roosevelt wisely said:
Comparison is the thief of joy
So let’s teach our kids to be concerned solely with their own journey, without comparing it to anyone else’s.
Kindness and Giving
Studies also show that those who give to others without self-serving motives are happier and more content. Teaching kids to be kind, compassionate and understanding is an important part of Happiness School. There are plenty of ways to do this and most of their education in this area will inevitably arise from watching me.
Happiness School doesn’t run on a timetable. There are no exams (because exams don’t make anyone happy). Students won’t receive a grade to compare against others and be pitched in a league table..
Instead, it is made up of continual bite size lessons which, hopefully, when pieced together will ensure my children understand what happiness actually is and how they can attain it.
Happiness isn’t a lucky accident. Happy people aren’t happy by fluke. Just like a mathematician understands maths, a happy person understands happiness.
Like any subject, the harder you study and the more you learn about happiness, the more likely you are to find it.
For my kids, that’s all I wish for.