We all want our kids to grow up to become happy adults. But what is happiness? A fulfilling relationship with a partner? A rewarding, high-paying job? Close friends? Good health? A helluva sale on your favorite Trader Joes Pinot?
“Happiness is an achievement,” read the teabag tag on my recent cup of Blackberry Apple Cider Digestive Awakening tea. The idea that happiness doesn’t just happen to people is common sense, of course. Our collective experience shows us that life is a series of struggles, some small and some not so small. Rest assured, a costly ding to your bumper waits just around the next bend. Or news of an irregular Pap smear. Or a poke in the eye.
Happiness is a game of hide and seek—a search for joy underneath the bed and behind closed closet doors. It’s the struggle to overcome addictions. It’s the challenge to make peace with that which you cannot change. It’s figuring out how to appreciate the goodness in your life in spite of the pain. No matter what it is for you, it’s a freaking beast to get there.
So if we all know that happiness is not something that exists in a vacuum without problems, if we all know happiness takes work, why don’t more people put in the effort to achieve it? And that’s not to say everyone I know is miserable, but if happiness comes to us through effort, why not work hard to get more of it? Why be happy only on the weekends? Or only when your team wins the playoffs? Why not be happy most of the time?
As it turns out, the personal qualities that make us “happy” in life, are the same things that make us “resilient.” Gratitude, optimism, self-regulation, empathy, healthy habits like exercise and eating well. The work of happiness is also the work of resilience. And we know resilience is no fun—it means problems. Sure, you’re overcoming those problems, but they’re still problems.
Interestingly enough, research shows that when we’re happy, we become better at working hard at healthy pursuits and creating the mental patterns that make us happy.
Did ya get that?
Put in the effort to get happy and getting happy will make you want to put in the effort.
“When we are in a positive mindset, our brains become more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, resilient and productive at work,” states a May 2015 Washington Post article, entitled “How to teach our children the art of happiness.”
So what do you teach your kids to prepare them for the happiness slog? What’s the overarching message that is going to make your child want to do the work to be both happy and resilient?
Perhaps it’s simple.
Maybe it’s just TRY. Put in the effort. Work hard.
Work hard at school. Work hard in the professional world. Work hard to resist getting on social media when you’ve already been on it for an hour. Work hard to get your meds right and take them if you need them. Work hard to eat broccoli, when you’d rather feast on Mesquite Barbecue Lays. Work hard to connect with others even if that’s just talking to the sales clerk at the gas station. Heck, work hard to take time off working hard; work hard at self-care and relaxation. And teach your kids it ain’t easy. Don’t expect it to be.
After all, happiness is an achievement. Teabags don’t lie.