If you give a child a toy they want, they will be happy. All parents want their children to be happy, but I want to argue that the all encompassing idea of a happy life has removed from view other important facets that make our life and those of our children far more fulfilling. So, here are 4 aspects to work on for your child that I believe are far more important than simple happiness.
Feeling part of community
Feeling part of something larger than yourself is critical to human wellbeing. I use the word wellbeing because it doesn’t imply that the end result is necessarily happiness. Having to contribute to chores won’t necessarily make your child happy in today’s understanding of the word, though it will contribute to their overall wellbeing. It also takes care of the very important need for humans to be part of something larger than themselves, your family and the community at large.
Taking on something challenging
It turns out that the brain loves things that are challenging and that anyone, yourself and your children included, feel much better if you have to struggle for something you want. In his book ‘Satisfaction: The Science of Finding True Fulfillment,’ Dr. Gregory Berns explains that real satisfaction and hedonistic pleasure are two very different things, and there is a totally different response by the brain to the two different types of stimuli. Satisfaction activates dopamine, which basically means both you and your children feel better if something is harder to achieve. If, on the other hand, you are just given something or can get something you want for little effort in a passive way, it might be pleasurable, but it doesn’t feel nearly as good as having earned it.
Doing something for the pure joy of it
Have you ever got lost in an activity that you just don’t know where the time went? Encouraging children to get so involved in something they love that they lose themselves in it, is yet another facet of a full life that we often minimize. Parents often want children to follow certain paths, which become based more on what the parents want than what naturally excites the child. Encouraging children to do what they really love, rather than what might bring them wealth or make them successful, is hard but it also leads to true fulfillment.
Realizing that relationships are a two-way street
Yes, you’re the parents of your child and as their parent, you provide them with a roof over their head, clothes, food, love and cuddles, amongst other things but to be more than happy, your child’s relationship with you has to have an aspect of giving, of reciprocation. Children naturally want to help you, so it’s much easier to give them this ability than you might think. That means letting them help you out, and take time to make sure you teach them that listening and being interested in the lives of family and friends is an important part of building and sustaining loving relationships. One of the most natural ways to do that is by making the family meal an important part of your life. Meals are a natural social occasion, and a time to catch up with each other. Make it a habit when they are little for your children to all gather around the table, and the unifying effects of sustaining and nurturing relationships will last a lifetime.