Our number one goal as parents is to ensure our kids’ happiness. I want it, you want it, we all want it.
We might have different ways of accomplishing this goal and we do what works for us, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t open to learning and growing — especially when it comes to our children’s health and happiness. So when I see an article explaining that we’ve been doing it wrong — for a very long time — my interest is piqued. And yours probably is too.
Emma Seppela, PhD, the science director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University, has researched the science of being happy for a long while, and says we have some areas for improvement when it comes to raising happy kids. In her new book, Happiness Track: How to Apply the Science of Happiness to Accelerate Your Success, she explains we need to actually let our kids fail, instead of pushing them towards things they are good at. And then it is our job, as parents, to teach them how to treat themselves well if things don’t work out the way they hoped.
Based on Seppela’s research, I’ve been guilty of not paying attention to the signs (or words) my children have given me because I think I know better than they do. I’ve pushed, and promised rewards if they work hard in school or sporting events, and I’ve questioned if their decisions are is really what is best for them. Sometimes our gut feeling is the only sign we need.
After reading her article on Quartz, I realized something: all of the lessons she says we should be teaching our kids are also things I struggle with as an adult, even though I know they are healthier ways of thinking.
Perhaps we have been conditioned to think a certain way because of the way we were raised. And for most of us, if feels natural to raise our kids the same way we were raised, even though we might be trying to break free from less healthy thoughts ourselves.
Another point Seppela makes is that we need to lay off pushing our kids to “keep their eyes on the prize” and working hard only for the success that will come later. This teaches them to constantly look to the future instead of living in the moment. Sound familiar? I am so guilty of pushing through life, thinking things will get easier or better if I just put more in now instead of enjoying the present. But life is supposed to be a journey, not a race. Isn’t it?
Seppela suggests we teach our children to treat themselves with kindness, to not limit them by only letting them do things they are good at, and to not let them fall into the busy trap. Our brains work much better when they have room to grow and breathe on their own without a jam-packed day. We should be giving our kids plenty of opportunities to make their own fun.
These are all life lessons I am trying to bestow upon myself too. I am constantly trying to change my mind set and cut myself a break. My kids need to be taught the same if I want them living their best life.
And isn’t that what we we all really want? All of the points Seppla touches on made me realize that, at 42-years-old, I still struggle with a goal-driven, don’t-fail mindset. But if I am being honest and gentle with myself, don’t over-schedule, and stop being so competitive, I really do feel happier and healthier.
If I can bestow this on my children early on, perhaps it will become a part of who they are. These will become habits they will practice everyday so they are more at ease in life, instead of constantly trying to outdo everyone at the expense of their own happiness.
I know I am happier when I follow Seppela’s advice, and surely my kids will be happier, too.