Last fall, I took my 11-year-old son to see a talk by Neil Pasricha, author of The Book of Awesome and The Happiness Equation. Neil writes about the ways we can all learn how to live happier, more satisfied lives.
As we chatted over our pre-talk dinner of cornish hen and root vegetables, I pondered my decision to bring my boy to an event clearly geared for adults. I had looked at it as a quality bonding experience -- with three kids, one-on-one time can sometimes be harder to achieve than the full-family extravaganza -- and I appreciated the opportunity to teach him some of the concepts behind Dr. Tara’s Sunshine. As parents, we want to do everything in our power to improve family time, build a good family life, and raise happy children. And here I was, taking my son for happiness lessons! But then I started to wonder… What would he think after learning how unhappy many adults are? And as a young student already in the throes of the “what-will-I-be-when-I-grow-up” game, what if it were discouraging to hear that neither working at a job nor becoming a parent seems to make grown-ups happy?
Thankfully, my son seemed unphased by being the only person in attendance younger than the guest-speaker, Neil, and his lovely wife. He didn’t even flinch at the comment that we would all be happier if we got more exercise and spent more time having sex. Instead, it seemed to make sense to him that happiness is something we create and nurture in and for ourselves. It is a product of our actions and perceptions, not something we wait to receive from an external source. In the end, my son found it encouraging to hear that he could play an active role in ensuring his own contentment and well-being (phew -- mother guilt averted).
Creating Your Own Happiness: Simple Win-Win Strategies
Neil focused his talk on a well-researched list of 7 simple things we can do right away to increase our happiness. He challenged each of us in the audience to pick one and start. The activity that resonated most with me and my son was “random acts of kindness”. Studies indicate that we can boost our sense of joy and well-being by engaging in five simple acts of kindness each week. These acts can be anything from buying someone a coffee to shoveling a neighbour’s driveway to sending a spontaneous thank-you note. Talk about a win-win situation!
Discovering the Power of Human Connection: Opportunities to Connect with Your Children
This challenge has provided wonderful opportunities to connect with my son. He periodically shares with me some of the creative ways he has found to demonstrate kindness, from lending a helping hand in his class to giving spontaneous complements. It is my hope that starting this practice at a young age will enable it to become a routine but also cherished part of his daily life. As a joint mother-son project, he may learn -- perhaps both consciously and subconsciously -- that kindness and compassion are fundamental values in our family. In the meantime, we are having fun and spreading goodwill while holding each other accountable for our actions. The benefit is really in the doing of the deeds, not just thinking about doing them!
Dr. Tara’s Sunshine Query: How Does Teaching Children Accountability Fit in Here?
Accountability has negative connotations for many of us. We tend to refer to it after we have experienced a disappointment and want to “make” or hold others accountable. In this way, it becomes linked to punishment and negative repercussions. Teaching children accountability is far more effective when we use the term in its more positive, proactive sense. Accountability is a constructive, supportive mechanism to facilitate improved participation and strengthen commitment to goals. It is a powerful tool to encourage and promote ownership of behaviour and both personal and shared responsibilities. We can achieve even better results by empowering each other to take an active role in setting reasonable goals, and by monitoring progress, providing helpful feedback, and celebrating the journey.
As a side bonus, we have used this activity as a platform to talk at our family breakfasts about what a happy life means to us and some of the other ways we can build happiness and demonstrate kindness and accountability. We spent one morning discussing the meaning of “win-win” and why it’s not the same as winning 2 baseball games in a row! These discussions can even be helpful starting points for reviewing family values, teaching children courtesy and manners, reinforcing the importance of being charitable (hence the 30% of the kids’ allowance that goes to charity!), and adopting a spirit of mindfulness and gratitude.