According to vocabulary.com “Happiness is that feeling that comes over you when you know life is good and you can’t help but smile.” Similarly, Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at the University of California, defines happiness as, “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one's life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.” Sure, these are feelings I want my children to experience, but let’s be real for a minute. Does anyone, anywhere ever get through life untouched by hurt, sadness or challenge? I’m waaaay on the side of absolutely NOT.
With this in mind, what good is it that I wish for my child to be happy, if I believe feeling happiness as a consistency is an impossibility?
I understand the initial response from parents who say they want their children to be happy and healthy. If you’d asked me 26 years ago when I was 19 and pregnant with my son what I wish for him, I’m certain health and happiness would have been included in my response. These continue to be the answers I hear when engaging with parents. If you’d then returned to me six years later as I awaited the arrival of my second child, a daughter this time, I’d have answered again with a desire for her to be happy and healthy, however by this time, I’d have added capable and independent to my ‘hope’.
Today my children are grown and exploring the world as adults. They’ve survived the process and expectation of their formal schooling years, felt wins and losses of achievements socially, academically and physically and they’ve negotiated relationships of independence and interdependence. As all of us do, they’ve had opportunities to lean into their personal identities and make choices of roles, responsibilities and action. They’ve been happy … but they’ve felt other emotions too.
“Ups and downs. Victories and defeats.
Sadness and happiness. That’s the best kind of life.”
Yes, of course I want my children to be happy, but if this were to be my primary wish and focus, I’d be falling short in providing them the skills, qualities and dispositions which would allow them the ability to CREATE the desired result of happiness… whenever they wanted.
If it’s not happiness I want for my children, what is it I DO want for them, you may query?
In the last almost three decades of raising children and teaching in the early childhood sector, I’ve observed much evidence of the challenges facing children, teens and yes, adults. That means you too. Life can be pretty hard at times, can’t it? As Brene Brown states, we’re so frightened of what’s to come from life and the feelings associated with these possibilities, we often spend our days ‘foreboding joy’. By this she refers to the strategy of pre-empting or preparing for the inevitable wrecking ball or less significant however still impacting challenge we’re ‘sure’ is around the corner. The sick child. Rainy weather. Broken washing machine. Lost job. Et cetera. Et cetera. If this is true, then it’s clear we don’t believe our children are going to be happy all of their lives, right? We know things go wrong and not to plan. That’s the design of this curious game of life we play. It’s inevitable our children will experience disappointment, loss, hurt and other perceived negative emotions we as their parents, would love to be able to shelter them from. We can’t though, can we?
“Perfect and bulletproof are seductive,
but they don’t exist in the human experience.”
This is why happiness is not what I wish for my children. My wish is they understand the power to be happy lies within them.
This powerful strategy is what I pray my children learn. That when the next life challenge is upon them, they are able and willing to ask themselves ‘what am I making this mean?’ and then choose the next best thought that moves them toward joy.
“Nothing has power over me other than that
which I give my conscious thoughts”
Without rain there are no rainbows. Without pressure, no diamonds. Without grit, no pearl and without a broken seed, no new growth. If my children and yours can practice resiliency, choose to take ownership of their minds and search for silver linings, happiness can be theirs.
This is what I wish for my children.