If you're like most parents, you want your kids to find happiness in life more than anything else. Despite the craziness of growing up (chores, sports practices, piano recitals, science projects, sibling rivalry, and on and on.....) parents want their kids to have adulthoods of meaning, purpose, and low stress. Is there anything we can do to help our children achieve this dream, or do we have to hope that happiness will descend from the heavens?
As it turns out, parents have a road map for guiding children towards emotional wellbeing. Over decades of research, the "science of happiness" has identified several habits that make happiness a more likely outcome for our kids. By teaching these happiness habits at home, we can help our children get on track for less stress, more resiliency, and more success at school and beyond.
Here are five tips for teaching happiness to kids:
1. Build a gratitude wall. Since gratitude makes us happier and healthier, it's a good idea to encourage kids to spend more time being grateful. Even if your kid is "wired to whine," he can get better at gratitude with practice. Try making a gratitude wall with Post-It notes. Every day, write down or draw a picture of two things for which you're grateful. Do this in the kitchen or another room where you spend a lot of time. This way you'll be reminded visually of the good things in your life, and you'll become more grateful as a result.
2. Say "screens are dessert." Want your kids to be happy and healthy? Think S.A.D. - "screens are dessert." Research has shown that excessive screen time leads to an unsettled and less focused brain. Point out the connection between "diet" and health. Is it OK for your child to eat ice cream and brownies all the time? Of course not! We should think the same way about screen time. Encourage a healthy "main course" of reading and exercise, preferably outside.
3. Bake cookies for a neighbor. Since kindness makes us happier and improves the quality of our social connections (an important predictor of emotional wellbeing), bake some cookies and bring them to a neighbor totally at random. Your kids (especially the younger ones) will love helping out in the kitchen. They will probably want to do this again and again, especially if they can sample some cookies along the way!
4. Create something. People who spend a lot of time being creative tend to be happier and less stressed. Encourage your child to use her imagination to create short stories, skits with neighborhood kids, silly songs, and works of art. Building a fort in the woods is a wonderful way to bond with friends while being creative.
5. Be curious. We're happier when we're learning new things and growing as people. Plus, the more you learn, the more creative you become. Pick a different state (or country) each week and learn as much as you can about it. You can include aspects of culture such as food, music, dance, and sports in meals and other family activities.