When it comes to raising children, we all have something in common:
Every parent, no matter their background, wants their kids to be happy. But today’s parents don’t just want their kids to be happy: It’s actually become the goal.
Parents are feeling the pressure to ensure their kids’ happiness like never before. And failure in this important task feels to the parent like the ultimate failure in raising their kids.
As a result, our efforts are doubled and tripled, and everything, from the way we speak to our shopping habits, is testimony to this shift.
And while there is nothing wrong with this per se, the underlying message is crystal clear:
YOU Are the Goal, Dear Child
YOUR happiness is the goal.
YOUR entertainment is the goal.
YOUR smile, laughter, and joy are the goals.
There is an entire new line of toys and books that are, without a doubt, a reflection of this phenomena in a way that has become downright narcissistic:
Dolls that are made to look like the child that plays with them.
Books where the hero of the story is the kid him (or her) self.
A Where’s Waldo-type book in which, instead of searching for Waldo’s red and white hat or distinctive glasses, the kids spends hours and hours looking for none other than their very own faces.
Psychologists around the world are documenting this trend towards self-centeredness and its worrisome effects on society.
In an article in Psychology Today, Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D. points out that lack of empathy for others and an inability to work for the collective good are direct results of this self-centered trend. Another article on Today.com documents the shift toward narcissism since the 1970’s and points out that things are getting worse with every passing year.
These articles are just a drop in the bucket, and they point to the same conclusion: narcissism in our children is a growing concern with disastrous effects.
A Generation of Kids That Think: It’s All about ME
Kids absorb this message and think in turn, “If my happiness is the goal, then my happiness is more important than anything else……If it’s not about me, it must not be important.”
It goes even further though: kids have not only been led to believe that their happiness is the point, but they also think that it’s someone else’s job to supply it to them.
And finally, if their happiness is the goal, they assume that any feeling OTHER than happiness must be a problem.
The average kid today thinks, “If I’m not happy, something must be wrong. Someone isn’t doing their job. Someone needs to make me happy again.” Because our society’s message is that it is the parents’ job to ensure their kids’ happiness, children feel powerless to find happiness on their own.
This thinking has ironically, and tragically, resulted in the most frustrated and depressed generation of humans the world has ever seen. Angry outbursts from kids of all ages, frustration, depression, lack of motivation and anxiety have become the norm.
Our current way of understanding happiness is fundamentally flawed, and as a result, happiness is actually harder to find than ever before.
The Truth about Happiness
1. TRUE happiness comes from thinking about others.
Research tells us that true, lasting happiness comes not from thinking of yourself, but from thinking about others. An article published by Time Magazine titled “Being Generous Really Does Make You Happier” specifies numerous benefits linked to generosity, including better health and a longer life expectancy, all due to the positive feelings we get from giving.
But even without scientists and research, we all know from our own personal lives: when we act to make the lives of others better, we feel a deep sense of happiness and meaning. These feelings have the power to carry us through all sorts of hardships.
It’s ironic that by teaching kids that their happiness is the primary goal, we are neglecting the very thing that will bring them long-term happiness: the habit of caring and acting for others.
Instead, let’s teach our children that to ask the question: “What can I do to help?” When we give our kids opportunities to help those around them—with tasks around the house, and by encouraging them to help their siblings, friends and neighbors, etc., they get to experience the true joy of giving.
Even if at first it feels like a drag or a pain, the message is clear: This is the path to greatness, and true happiness, as well.
2. Happiness is a choice that every person makes for himself.
When we make our kids’ happiness OUR biggest goal, the message is: “It’s not in your power to find happiness for yourself. You need to wait for someone to give it to you.”
This sets them up for a lifetime of frustration, because they learn to rely on others to supply them with happiness, when in truth, no matter what someone does for them, good or bad, being happy is something only they can choose.
We have all heard stories of people in the Holocaust who found things to be grateful for. And on the other side of the spectrum, there are people who are dissatisfied no matter how good their lives are.
By letting our kids know that happiness is THEIR choice, we have given them a huge gift: the gift of being able to find positivity no matter where life takes them.
3. Life isn’t just about happiness!
Life is full of so many things. There are struggles and challenges, good days and bad. The best of marriages are not always happy! But they are still worth it. The best of friendships have their rough spots to work through.
If our kids think they have to be happy all the time, they will become frightened of challenge and change. Growing takes effort; it can be scary and overwhelming at times, and it’s definitely not always described as “happy”.
Feeling sad, frustrated, and even angry is part of life and can actually inspire us to grow. Pushing through hard times is an incredible skill, and will lead to more success, opportunities to grow, and deep joy down the line.
A New World on the Horizon
By understanding the truth around happiness and what a meaningful life is made of, our interactions with our kids automatically shift.
A new message is given over—one that results in a giving, caring, deeply joyful generation.
I believe it’s a change worth making.