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The Intentionality of Happiness

It's common to believe that our circumstances determine our level of happiness in life. However, once you obtain the job promotion, buy the shiny new car, take the trip of a lifetime, or marry your best friend, you may be surprised (and discouraged) to discover happiness is just as elusive and fleeting even with the best of circumstances. Our kids are no different from us– striving for happiness in acing the test, making the team, and getting the acceptance letter to the college they've always wanted to attend. However, when we have expectations of reality, we may lose sight of what's more important.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, the author of The How of Happiness, estimates 50% of happiness is genetic, 40% comes from our intentionality, and just 10% is derived from life circumstances. This confirms that happiness has little to do with our life circumstances.

Positive psychology founder, Martin Siligam, described happiness as positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning and purpose, and accomplishment.

Considering the ideologies of two pioneers of happiness, how can we be more intentional and weave happiness into our lives and the lives of our children?

Meaning & Purpose: Chat with your kids about what matters most.

  • What are their values (even if they differ from yours)? If you need a starting point, check out how to discover and define your family values online to identify your family's core values and help your children identify theirs.

Engagement: Encourage them to do things that fill their hearts.

  • Helping others is a great way to contribute to the community–find out if they are interested in volunteering at a local charity that matters to them or through fundraising as a family for a meaningful cause!

  • Prioritize social interactions with people who bring them joy–encourage time with friends.

  • Promote positive experiences and memories rather than focusing on school, achievements, and outcomes.

  • Nurture their passions–ask them when they feel happiest and what they like about the experience to integrate like activities into their lives.

Model positive self-talk.

  • Model your self-talk. It is equally important to model how you pull yourself out of negative self-talk. Show your child we can all have negative thoughts but have more control over them than we think! Make it a practice to think through these moments aloud to model resilience.

  • Invite them to share about the kindness they experienced from others or gave to others throughout their day.

  • Comment on the good you see in those around you. In doing so, your child's brain will be primed to look out for good in the world. As Mr. Roger's said, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping."

Acceptance: Practice nonjudgement at home to avoid shame

  • Radically embrace who you are, your child, and your current situation. Embrace your experiences and hold space for your child's experiences, ideas, thoughts, and feelings. A great rule of thumb is letting them do more of the talking without interjecting your opinion or advice so you can hear what they say without making assumptions. As a result, they'll likely be more comfortable being honest with you. You'll be surprised how much insight your child will share when they feel supported in this way, and your relationship will flourish!

If you're interested in learning more about happiness, we invite you to tune into The Happiness Lab Podcast by Dr. Laurie Santos, focusing on positive psychology studies and the science of happiness. It's such fascinating work! The more we learn about happiness, the more we can experience it, share it with others, and deliberately make it part of our lives. As a result, our children will focus less on comparisons, the goalpost, or scarcity and instead shift their focus to their values, meaningful experiences, and connections.

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Written by Jenny Drennan (M. Ed., ET/P) and Geneva Walsh (M. Ed.)

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