“If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.” Most parents have probably heard their child sing that song, along with the accompanying hand motions. It’s a hard song to sing or listen to without smiling, given its up tempo beat and usually enthusiastic rendering by a child. When hearing that song, I’ll bet some of us wish happiness was as easily gained by silly lyrics and an infectious tune.
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But it’s not, is it? Happiness can sometimes be as elusive as that fabled bluebird that brings joy to its hearers. When I read about how parenting doesn’t make us happy, I wonder if we’re asking the right question. Since when does anything make us happy? Can our spouses make us happy? Can our children make us happy? Can the perfect job make us happy? Can the right haircut make us happy?
The Declaration of Independence wisely doesn’t promise us happiness, but rather strove to provide a nation in which the pursuit of happiness wouldn’t be restricted by onerous laws and curtailment of freedom. This idea that we have to be happy all the time—and if we’re not, then we need to change what we’re doing or who we’re with—is a modern invention. If you asked people a half century ago about their personal happiness, most would have scoffed at such an idea. That’s not to say people weren’t happy; they just weren’t as obsessed with whether or not they were happy as we are today.
How does that translate into parenthood? Quite simply, if we focus too much attention on being happy, we will teach our children that feeling happy is more important than being cheerful when doing our chores. We will show by our actions that personal happiness is more important than the happiness of our family as a whole. In short, we will raise kids who place more value on a transient feeling rather than a intrinsic character trait.
Talking about, worrying about, trying to grab our own happiness rather than finding contentment in whatever the situation will likely make us more unhappy than joyful. The constant stress on happiness will erode any sense of joy in the little things of life, any peace in our circumstances and any chance of obtaining long-term enjoyment of our families.
We need to teach our children that true peace and joy comes not from a feeling of happiness but from a contentment with life. That doesn’t mean we eschew finding solutions to problems or ignore obvious troubles that we should address. It does mean that we work on helping our kids see that happiness is more than clapping our hands along to a catchy tune—it’s as varied as the colors of the rainbow. True happiness comes from true satisfaction with who we are deep down inside. That’s something that’s worth pursuing.
Until next time,
If you want to read more about happiness and parenting, check out my article on Crosswalk.com, “Should Happiness Matter to Parents?”