Habit of Happiness

“I just want my child to be happy!”
A statement I hear from almost every parent who has come to me to help their child and from most other parents I’ve spoken to about their children. This makes sense; of course we want our kids to be happy!

What doesn’t make sense to me is that we have want it. I mean, why aren’t they happy – they are kids? Unless they don’t have enough to eat or a roof over their heads, why aren’t they happy? Why don’t we know they are going to grow up happy?

And then there is the question I have had for years as I have faced my own trials in life – Why is it so hard to be happy, and to stay happy? As adults we seem to have to work through so many blocks, limiting beliefs, and pain to get happy. Life circumstances change and we’re unhappy. And somehow even though it is a great goal to be happy; it’s not always the most popular thing. People are suspect, they push on us, bringing in negativity to test our happiness and some secretly gloat when we fall from our happy place. Happy people can be intimidating it seems.

So, how does this affect our kids? In many ways and today I will discuss 3 and how we can shift to build Habits of Happiness.

1. The Brain has a Negative Bias – Truly! I just learned this recently in a lecture by Stanford professors, Dr. Fred Luskin and Carol Pertofsky, M.Ed. They explained that research shows that the brain is actually set up to have a negative bias.

Well, this answers my burning question of why do we have to try too hard to be happy! Here is how it works: negative thoughts – being prepared for, aware of and wary of possible danger or hazards that might befall us or our children, allows us to protect ourselves and survive.  Really, it is a survival of the fittest kind of thing. In the jungle, if I am prepared and on alert, I survive; you aren’t, poof – you’re not. Simple. So we learn to be on alert through our thoughts, stress, interpretations, questions, self-talk, etc. And, we develop coping mechanisms, contingency plans and ways to compensate to take care of the inevitable crisis. Of course the constant focus on the negative attracts the negative which creates the justification for focusing on it, and there you have the vicious cycle.

Our brains haven’t caught up in this area from the foraging days of the past. A major program update is needed, but there isn’t a downloadable version. We can’t just go to sleep and wake up without this negative bias. We need to counteract it regularly. We must choose each moment to think, act and be happy. We must learn and practice the habit of gratitude, finding the blessings, and solving the problems we face from a trusting place. It is a choice. The good news is you don’t have to know how it will turn out before you make the choice.

2. Our children learn from what we do – Model, Model, Model. Many years ago when I was learning to facilitate children’s self-esteem workshops with Insight Seminars, my mentor, Jane Cramer would tell me over and over, “the children learn from what we do more than what we say. They watch us and they follow us, particularly if they love and respect us” – like our own kids. She is wise and her advice holds true today. We model by our self-talk (which we often voice), our responses and reactions and general attitude. Our kids watch and listen and learn.

By starting with ourselves, a bit at a time, we will begin to model positive, happy habits and practices for our children. And they will follow suit, without thinking much about it. If we know happiness is a choice and created from inside, we will have faith that our kids will be happy and that we can teach/show/model to them how to make that choice.

3. Happiness is more than emotional highs based on outer experiences – it is much more subtle. Happiness includes those fabulous moments and exhilarating experiences and it also can exist when outward situations are sad, frustrating, etc. An inner contentment, peace, focus on gratitude and loving can be very present even in the difficult situation – even when you aren’t “feeling” happy. In fact this inner forbearance allows us to learn and grow from challenges to be empowered by them – not fully shaken by them – and to recover faster. It takes practice to be able to maintain that place, even some of the time.

Does all this sound like Pollyanna? Maybe. But it is a real choice we can make each day – once, twice or more times than we are currently. It is easier not to, after all our primitive brain is already leading us with that self-protective negative bias. We can go with the negative flow, and keep worrying, stressing, and reaping the consequences. Or, we can choose happiness; choose to respond from compassion, gratitude and loving. We can see what the consequences are. There is hidden strength in this choice and great rewards as we feel stronger and happier and our children learn the value and habits of happiness.

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