It’s a pretty big ask
A few weeks ago I asked the question on my Facebook page about what parents wanted most for their kids. I did this because when I asked myself the same question my immediate response was “happy”. As was the answer from the majority of others that responded. It’s a pretty natural answer because of course we want our kids to be happy. I want mine to be bouncing off the freaking walls with joy but it had me thinking about what happy was and whether it’s really what we should want for our kids. Stay with me we’re going deep.
Happy is an emotion, therefore it is not and never will be a constant. Emotions go up and down. It’s a roller coaster depending on outside factors and ourselves. No-one EVER is going to be able to maintain happiness. (Indeed I would suggest you be suspicious of anyone that always appears that happy. Seriously, you gotta watch those folk). Happiness springs itself on you, during a good night out, hanging with friends, a favourite program, an achievement, but it doesn’t stay around, sneaky little minx that it is. You can’t bottle that stuff. So maybe what we need to be wanting for our kids is inner peace. A place from where they can recover from the lows instead of aiming for the unachievable lofty heights of happiness. Let it be said pulling out happy after something really crap happens is pretty impossible but you can generally manage to make peace with it.
Inner peace can sound all a bit tree huggy and crushed velvet but it is really just that place that you feel safe and settled. I believe teaching our kids to aim for happy is setting them up for disappointment. It’s a big ask of someone and we do it all the time. It’s everywhere: magazine covers, tv, songs. Precious time (and health) is wasted seeking ways to try and find this magical place – whether it’s drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, money, shopping, relentless approval seeking, Seinfeld reruns (that might be just me) – whatever gets a high is going to become a constant pursuit that will not end well. You might as well be searching for a unicorn.
So what if instead we teach our kids steps to find some inner peace when they need it. To be able to still find joy in things when their fragile young worlds are crumbling. Guide them to find their passions so they can turn to them and invigorate their sense of self and purpose when the shit hits the fan. Help them learn what makes them shine so they can find that when life is at its darkest. Give them the gift of resilience. That stuff comes with longevity, emotional health, stability, and bloody importantly, achievability.
Cut them some slack. Redefine and clarify what they should expect of themselves. I’m not talking lowering expectations across the board. I’m talking awareness of what is normal. That normal means you can be happy and sad and everything in between, sometimes all in the same hour. We are all being brain washed to feel like we should be happy all the time. What a freaking load off for a hormonal teen to be actually told it’s ok to not have to be a carnival when you’ve got your period, and your face is one big break out, and you have exams and your boy friend just dumped you. That it’s just as ok to have times of feeling unhappy, disappointed, frustrated, in fact you should feel those, it means you’re human and those emotions will come and go too. If we can give our kids and ourselves the acceptance to feel the lows, the ability to make peace with it and the tools to climb back up then we are that much closer to being able to soak up some happy when it comes our way. And repeat when the trap door opens again as it inevitably will.
Teen suicide, self harm, drugs, violence, all that misery is running rampant in our youth. Obviously there are many deep cultural, economic and societal issues at play here but maybe just maybe we can strike one-off the shit list if kids don’t feel like they have already failed at life because they don’t feel happy ALL. THE. TIME. Perhaps their mental health could be improved with the simple knowledge that happy is not something to be maintained but a series of beautiful moments amongst the palette that is life.
Happy comes and goes. By all means slap that sunny stuff all over you when it rocks on in but inner peace is where it’s at. That stuff will see you through for the long haul.