Expertly happy

There really is a magic formula for happiness
By Lucille Kemp

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I think life starts to get better for most of us when we realise that quality of life does not centre wholly on achieving the dream of a nice home, job title or goal weight… That it’s about achieving happiness. And we can be happy without said home, job title, goal weight…
As parents, achieving happiness is not only a skill that we must learn for ourselves in order to keep moving forward, it’s a responsibility that we have to our children because, in their growing years, they’re looking to us to set the tone for their lives.
Glenda Weil and Doro Marden, co-authors of Raise Happy Children, say a large part of a parent’s job is to “delve into the conditions for creating the fertile ground in which happiness can flourish – not the happiness that appears in holiday brochures where the sun is always shining and everyone is smiling, but more where the happiness endures through the ups and downs of real family life.”
Happiness ingredients
1. Knowing what makes you smile
Apart from the basic universal human needs – for food, shelter, security and love – individual needs, that we want met, develop.
Focus on allowing your children the freedom to explore and try different activities to discover what brings them enjoyment, say Weil and Marden. When they have this focus they will be able to play to their strengths, which will bring them an overall sense of joy.
2. Connectedness
According to Weil and Marden, “Happy children have secure and loving relationships with their parents, get on with other children and have at least one good friend.” These relationships deepen and are strengthened through communication.
Focus on quality time with your child, which may call for regulating TV and internet time. Encourage them to invite friends over and create opportunities for laughter, playfulness and show appreciation for all family members’ sense of humour, add Weil and Marden.
3. Guidance
Happy children know that they are loved and that their parents are in charge. Children tend to follow their desires the minute they arise, so you will have to teach them patience and delayed gratification – that there are many things out there that they have to wait for before they can fully enjoy them.
Focus on teaching them that it is possible to wait for things, however annoying the wait. Teaching them impulse control is crucial as there will be many times life calls for them to stop and think before acting.
4. Doing something well
We all get joy from deeds well done, children included, whether it is completing a difficult jigsaw puzzle or building a tower of bricks. Psychologist Steve Biddulph, author of Raising Boys, emphasises this by saying that a child should be able to cook a family meal by the age of 11.
Focus on allowing them to get stuck in and get creative. Provide opportunities to learn new skills and master something appropriate to their age and ability.
5. Realness
Don’t get your family trapped in the happiness doctrine – you can’t expect to have fun all the time. Of this, the famed psychotherapist Carl Jung once said, “Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness and the word ‘happy’ would lose its meaning were it not balanced by sadness.”
Focus on letting your child know that you accept their feelings, whether joyful or painful, say Weil and Marden. Acceptance and understanding are invaluable to your child.
6. Resilience
This is the ability to come through despite challenging circumstances; children who learn to cope with life’s setbacks and disappointments have a head start for happiness. With the proper support, disappointment can strengthen rather than weaken the child, say Weil and Marden.
Focus on preparing your child for the bumps in the road as opposed to constantly trying to clear the way for them.
7. Optimism
If you find that your child reflects a somewhat half-empty approach to life, know that, according to Weil and Marden, optimism can be taught.
Focus on challenging the view that nothing can be done about a problem by countering “I can’t” with “what’s stopping you?” Recall your child’s past successes and praise their efforts, not just their triumphs.
8. Thankfulness
Taking things for granted is the enemy of happiness. Weil and Marden say that children who feel entitled are less content than those who have an attitude of thankfulness.
Focus on teaching your child to make declarations, such as saying three things they are grateful for at bedtime or writing down five things they are thankful for every Sunday.
9. Giving
As the saying by Norman MacEwan goes, happiness lies not so much in having but in sharing – children can be taught the joy of giving to others.
Focus on encouraging them to pick flowers for granny.
10. Connecting with nature
From climbing trees to flying kites, there is magic in discovering the outdoors.
Focus on showing them that there is a whole world out there. Share with your child the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.
11. Morality and spirituality
A deeper happiness arises when people live in tune with their values and morals. Giving your children a moral dimension can give their lives deeper purpose.
Focus on having rituals like lighting candles for birthdays or examining the intricate detail of flowers in the garden or quietly gazing at the stars together, which, say Weil and Marden, will fill your child with the wonder of existence.
Finding the joy in the daily grind
  • Listen to music while at home together, giving each family member a chance to choose the tunes.
  • Get sunshine and exercise every day.
  • Break from routine, such as taking a different route to school.
  • Make more time for loved ones not in your immediate family.
  • Take daily family walks with the dogs before school or before dinner.
  • Eat dinner outside at least once a week.
  • Wake up a little earlier so you have more time to better enjoy the morning routine and the space you share with your dearest people.

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