It is very easy to take happiness for granted… especially in our children. (Isn’t it an innate quality…?)
The song lyrics ‘you don’t know what you’ve got till its gone’ ring very true when your child becomes anxious and you experience their happiness disappearing… and once it’s gone, you find yourself wondering how anything else was ever important. (I did)
We modern parents seem to spend much time running from club to party, music lesson to sports event, trying to give our kids the very best life we can (keep them happy)… and in between times buy the latest tech, clothes or kit so they can keep up with their friends (further keeping them happy). Although there is absoutely nothing wrong with any of this, long term happiness is not to be found in the latest purchase or party. Happiness is a choice, or at least a combination of the actions, thoughts and feelings we (and our kids) choose to have and do everyday. Happiness is a habit we can learn to do, and something we can teach our children.
So whether you have an anxious or depressed child, or have just decided to prioritise happiness in your family, here’s some easy ways to foster happiness in your home.
- Celebrate the small stuff. When they’re little we celebrate EVERYTHING with them, eating, sleeping, walking, even going to the toilet… then ‘when they get old enough’ we stop. I’m not saying to have a party everytime someone goes to the toilet… but noticing and acknowledging when things have gone right is a really good start. If your child is anxious this becomes more important as they have a tendency to notice the negatives. Acknowledging the positives helps them log a ‘bank’ of evidence, which they can use think their way logically out of anxious moments. (Remember when you did this…? You know you can do this… You’ve done it before)
- Talk about good news. This also helps them start to view the world through a positive lens. I ask “tell me some good news about today” (which is occasionally met with ‘nothing good happened’…) but is usually a good starting point for appreciating good and improving the mood in the house.
- Laugh together. Tell silly jokes, watch comedy on TV, read funny books and comics together, or make up your own silly stories. The folks over at Helpguide.org say, aside from making you all happier, laughing together can bring you closer as a family by increasing feelings of intimacy. Laughter also has the ability to ‘strengthen your immune system, boost your energy, diminish pain and protect you from stress’. (Helpguide.org)
- Go outside and play, preferably in a natural environment. Exercise releases endorphins, which naturally improves the mood, can divert our attention from negative thoughts, and give us a feeling of overall accomplishment. (Pursuit-of-happiness.org) Combine this with the rejuvenating and relaxing effect simply being in nature can have, and a trip outdoors for a game is well worth it.
- Teach/ learn practical skills. Activities like cooking, gardening, building, fixing their bike and even washing their own clothes will help your child build self esteem, give them a sense of purpose and help them explore their strengths. The sky is the limit here, you could even learn a new skill together.
- Make exciting plans together. Participate in dreaming. What do you want to be, do or have when you grow up? Who do you want to be? Who do you want to meet? Where do you want to go on holidays? You could even make a scrapbook together.
- Make your measure of success their effort. Christine Carter author of Raising Happiness says praising children in a ‘growth mind set’ way or ‘attributing their success to things such as effort, commitment, resourcefulness, hard work and practice’ helps children ‘grow succeed , and be happy’.
- Practice gratitude together. Talking about what you are grateful for helps you both view the world in a positive way, and appreciate what you have instead of worrying about what you lack. Be specific and creative, appreciating the big and small things, the experiences you’ve had and the people you know. (Shawn Achor)
- Play music and dance. New research suggests that listening to music we love actually causes the release of dopamine, a feel good chemical, causing us to… Um… Feel good. (Discover.news.com) This combined with the beneficial effects of exercise (see number 4) and the feelings of intimacy formed from doing something fun together are a great recipe for a happy day.
- Encourage, participate in, and demonstrate strong friendships. In her article ‘Friendship: The key to happiness’ Patty O’Grady says our true friendships, those based on ‘trust, honesty and empathy’, are mutually beneficial, and allow us to share ourselves without fear or judgement. (Psychologytoday.com) Friendships help us feel more optimistic, connected and worthwhile, and the bonus is , happiness is contagious, so sharing in a friend’s happiness can increase our own happiness, and vice versa!
- Use Happiness Flash Cards. Research suggests ‘once we anticipate a specific outcome will occur, our subsequent thoughts and behaviors will actually help to bring that outcome to fruition’ (psychologicalscience.org) In other words, the deliberate use of positive suggestion, can influence expectations and behaviour, and bring about a positive change. We use them at bedtime .
So there it is! Even if you pick one thing from this list… Or use it to inspire your own list of happiness habits, then my work for today is done.
Have a happy day!