Don’t Try To Make Them Happy

A parent is only as happy as their unhappiest child, goes the expression. And even if that wasn’t true, even if it didn’t directly impact our own happiness, would any of us want our children to be unhappy? Of course not. We love them so much. The last thing we want is for them to feel pain.

We want their lives to be wonderful. We want them to have fun. We want them to have a great life. We want them to be happy!

There’s nothing wrong with this…except that oftentimes trying to make someone happy is a recipe for failure. “Happiness is not my ultimate goal for my own kids,” Dr. Becky Kennedy writes in her amazing book Good Inside (which we continue to rave about). “Unhappiness certainly isn’t my goal for them, but here’s a deep irony in parenting: the more we emphasize our children’s happiness and ‘feeling better,’ the more we set them up for an adulthood of anxiety.”

What she means is that if we focus too much on the end state (making them feel happy) and not on the process (giving them the tools and resilience to deal with life), we end up making a very fragile, precarious kid. It means we are depriving them of the ability to solve their own problems. We end up raising kids incapable of being responsible for their own happiness.

So yes, in the end, we want happy kids. But the way to get there is not by focusing on their happiness but on so many of the things we’ve talked about here: Giving them purpose. Cultivating resilience. Teaching them how to manage frustration. Trying to understand them. Focusing on what matters.

And then happiness follows as a by-product.

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