As a parent, what do you hope for (apart from the odd sleep-in, and for the wet towels on the bathroom floor to be hung up)? Most of the parents I speak with tell me that they have plenty of hopes for their children's futures - great relationships, fulfilling work, interesting lives. Above all, parents say that they just want their children to be happy. Not surprisingly, there has been a lot of research conducted on happiness and how best to live 'the good life'. A continual stream of information floods through our in-boxes and social media pages, drowning us in suggestions of how to achieve lasting happiness. It can be difficult to come up for air and decide how to offer our children the best chance of being content now, and into the future.
Thankfully, the research yields some constants, which, can act as life buoys for parents. Martin Seligman, has distilled the research, and he suggests that our focus is better directed towards well-being than happiness. Happiness, he cautions, is a subjective and fleeting emotion and impossible to attain for any length of time. Seligman outlines five key elements which repeated studies have identified as essential to psychological wellbeing: savouring positive emotions, being fully engaged, having healthy relationships, achieving goals, and establishing a sense meaning and purpose.
Here are five simple things we can do to help our children stay afloat for the long haul:
1. Draw attention to positive emotions – keep a gratitude diary with your children and ask at the end of each day "What went well?"
2. Allow time to play – create regular spaces for children be completely absorbed in an activity without having to rush.
3. Encourage connections with a range of ages – where possible advocate for face to face interactions. Children learn empathy from reading faces and bodies.
4. Allow young people to struggle a little in order to meet their goals – talk about the sense of satisfaction that comes with hard work. Praise effort rather than result.
5. Involve children in helping others in small ways – the research shows that kindness to others delivers a sense of meaning more surely than anything else.
While happiness may be transitory, the five essentials of wellbeing can provide an anchor for us as parents, and for our children, even when life is not smooth sailing.
Martin Seligman is the father of positive psychology. Immanuel Lutheran College embeds the principles of positive psychology into the lives of young people through the Life Skills program.
Tarnya Mitchell (BA (Psych), BSocWk, Grad Dip Teaching, M.Ed (Guidance and Counselling))
Immanuel Lutheran College