If I had to choose between raising a happy child or a benevolent one, which would it be?
Hmmm. The answer might be obvious to some parents but when raising children, it wasn’t to me.
I suspect that most parents want kids who are both happy and good. It can be a daily struggle to balance what’s easiest and what’s best. I’ve walked the line between doing what would make my children happy versus what would make my children all of those other things I wanted them to be: positive, grateful, honest, passionate, generous, and kind.
Now that I’ve passed “Go” and invested over $200,000 in kids who are joyfully contributing to the world, I realize that, when it comes to parenting goals, we don’t have to choose between happiness and goodness. As far as I can tell, it feels good to do good, and that encourages the lifelong habit of doing more good.
I’ve been asking around, formally and informally, about the one characteristic parents most hope to instill in their children. Much to my surprise, not one parent answered “Happiness.” I assume that’s because we instinctively know that kids who are honest, kind, generous, and respectful are likely to live satisfying lives. So after much conversation and deliberation, what are the five secrets of happy kids?
1. They show up.
They get involved and feel connected to something bigger than themselves, including groups, activities, and ideas. They know that families, communities and even future generations are counting on them. Happy kids naturally see themselves as valuable contributors. When they don’t want to show up for themselves they are motivated to show up for others.
2. They look up.
They look on the bright side and recognize silver linings. They know that current circumstances and the feelings involved can’t go on forever. Happy kids assume something will change for the better – eventually — which gives them the hope and patience necessary to persevere. Even in the midst of sadness or frustration, they can envision a brighter day.
3. They own up.
Since they know the world doesn’t revolve solely around them, and they consider how their choices and behaviors affect others, they are less likely to take things personally. They accept responsibility for their part of a situation and let go of what is out of their control. Happy kids live and let live, responsibly and generously.
4. They stand up.
They regard themselves as equal to others and not better or less than. They might want the cupcake, award or coveted spot on a team, but they know others deserve good things too. Happy kids accept that we all can’t have what we want and deserve all of the time. Their “I’m OK, You’re OK” attitude gives them the confidence and compassion to stand up for themselves and others.
5. And they lift up.
They recognize the blessings in their lives, which makes them more likely to encourage and celebrate others. Because they see their cups as half full, happy kids assume that there’s enough love, attention, opportunity and rewards to go around. This leads to more cooperation than competition and kids who know the sweetest successes are those we share.
Happy kids can be patient and generous because they believe their day will come. They are secure in knowing that their needs will be met and, as a result, are more likely to improve the lives of others. They don’t look over their shoulders in fear of loosing ground because they consider life to be a team effort and more of a long-distance relay than an individual sprint.
Happy kids are easy to spot. They skip and whistle, hum and wave. They raise their hands, ask questions, give compliments, make observations and get involved. Somewhere along the line, they discovered that it feels good to do good. Wherever they go and whatever they do, they want to share this secret and the happy that goes with it.