Happiness is a much sought-after state of mind. It is also rather fleeting. What if you had the power to ensure that your children grow up into happy adults? Science suggests that you can.
Multiple studies have found that although nature accounts for a portion of your child’s happiness, nurture is also an important determinant of happiness. In other words, the environmental context in which a child is raised has a 50% impact on his/her level of happiness and may determine whether or not children grow up into happy adults.
There are many benefits linked to happiness and a positive disposition. Positive emotions increase creativity, enhance health and broaden the scope of attention. Positive people are also more likely to make and keep friends.
Henry Ford once said that “Wealth, like happiness, is never attained when sought after directly. It comes as a by-product of providing a useful service.” Ford was right. Happiness cannot be sought after directly but it can be cultivated through certain practices such as gratitude, optimism, a forgiving nature, contentedness, love, etc.
There is evidence that some parenting styles can help children form habits for a happier adulthood.
1 | The greatest is love
Where there is love, there are positive emotions. When our children feel loved and safe, they are more likely to experience positive emotions such as joy and contentment. We need to let our children know that they are “loved just the way they are”. This, however, does not mean accepting unacceptable behavior. It means being attentive to our children’s needs. It means fostering mutual respect. It means being willing to negotiate. Much evidence suggests that being firm and consistent is the key starting point for a happier adulthood.
2 | Eliminate negative self-talk
According to Martin Seligman, author of the book “Authentic Happiness”, developing an optimistic mindset sets the ground for a happier adulthood. Teaching your child to be optimistic is about teaching her that while she might not be able to control everything that happens to her, she can control how she reacts to life events. It is about teaching her to view negative events as temporary, rather than as permanent and personal.
Seligman also argues that teaching your child to be flexible in the manner in which she assigns causes to negative life events can be effective for a happier childhood and a happier adulthood. Explanatory flexibility means being able to view the same problem from multiple angles. Seligman’s findings have been confirmed by another study which observed a drop in pessimism among individuals who repeatedly provided alternative (not more optimistic) explanations for events.
3 | Stimulate your child’s intellect
Our children’s satisfaction stems from their ability to successfully accomplish a given task. When you child finally manages to build a complex castle in minecraft or to complete a lego mega construction after struggling for a week, he gains satisfaction and these feelings of pride and satisfaction increase his level of happiness.
Evidence suggests that there is greater self-satisfaction when difficult, rather than easy, tasks are completed. This view is shared by a different study that found that the pride that follows personal achievement can encourage one to envision even greater achievements in the future.
The more often your child is successful, the more likely he is to try out new challenges. Success breeds success, but failure also breeds failure. Seligman has warned against exposing a child to too much failure. He speaks about learned helplessness to explain why a child who consistently fails is likely to view himself as a failure. To stimulate your child’s intellect, set “great expectations” – they should neither be too high, nor should they be too low.
4 | Teach your child to count his blessings
Gratitude means being thankful of even the simplest things in life. People who practice gratitude are happier, more optimistic and enjoy greater well-being.
We can make gratitude a family habit by encouraging our children to count their blessings. Pick a moment as a family when everyone can talk about the things they are grateful for. It is important to be consistent so pick a schedule that works best for the entire family (daily routine, weekly routine, monthly routine, etc.).
5 | Slow down
Concepts such as The quiet revolution are driven by the desire to reject consumerism and the conception that life is not simply about the consumption and the accumulation of material things.
According to Seligman, slowing things down enables children to enjoy the simple things in life. It enables them to be more attentive to their environment and to the pleasures one can derive from this environment. He argues that when children are taught to slow down and enjoy life, they are more likely to grow up into happy adults.
Establishing routines can also help you slow down. Moreover, routines give children a sense of security and have been proven to reduce stress in both children and parents.
6 | Become your child’s emotion coach
A growing chorus of voices is saying that when we teach our children to identify and respond appropriately to their emotions, they learn to regulate their emotions better. Children who have learned to regulate their emotions are happier and have better social, psychological and academic outcomes beyond the childhood years. Become your child’s emotion coach. Turn your child’s strong emotions – anger, anxiety, frustration – into an opportunity to teach her to identify different emotions and express them in an acceptable manner.