Talking to kids about happiness: Part 1
This is the first of a series on how to talk with your kids about important issues related to mental health. This first one is about happiness.
As a parent, I have read a lot of parenting books. Most are aimed at helping kids get better grades, behave better, become more successful. It has been sad to see that so few books are about how to talk to kids about happiness, about how little guidance there is in helping us coach our kids to lead happy lives. What is the point of going to the best college, getting a high paying job, if we can't be happy?
On a scale of 1 to 10, do you know how happy your kiddo is? Do you know how high they can get? Or how low? When they feel down, how long does it tend to last?
Some of the questions that I often ask kids I work with and encourage parents to ask are their kids when they feel happy, what does it feel like in their bodies to feel happy, how long does it last. It can also be helpful to share your own experiences with happiness. I often talk to my kids about how I left finance (leaving a lot of money on the table!) to increase my own happiness by pursuing a career that I loved and found meaningful. Share that sure, money and materialistic things are nice, but it doesn't come close to the level of happiness that I get from doing a job I love every day.
Dr. Daniel Gilbert identified five elements of happiness in his PERMA model. Positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment. Talk with your kids about each of these pieces.
What do they love to do o? When do they feel in the zone? How much of their time do they feel like they are really into what they are doing? Tell them that being deeply engaged in something is one of the things that makes people happy. Talk to them about your own experiences of engagement. I tell my kids all the time how when I go on a run or to yoga class or work at the job that I love, time seems to fly by. I am completely into what I am doing.
Talk to kids about what gives them a sense of meaning. Ask them why do they think they are here in this planet? What do they want to be remembered for? Share your own experiences, too. I tell my kids about how my family and my career as a psychologist, give me a deep sense of meaning. I also tell them about adventure being something that makes my life meaningful. Whether it is doing a trekk in Nepal or ziplining in Costa Rica, I feel connected and inspired when I pursue adventure in my life. I also emphasize that what is meaningful for them and for me may be different.
Talk to your kids about relationships. Who do they feel close to? Who do you feel like you could be themselves with? Do they feel like they have enough friends, or wish they had more? Talk to them about your experiences with friendships and family. I told my daughter how because I moved a lot, I often had to make a friends by just chatting to random kids. My daughter has taken this advice to heart and has had no problem making friends (I seem to have kids over at my house all the time).