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The new science on happy kids becoming happy adults

The new science on happy kids becoming happy adults


It’s not really true to say, “Ice cream and video games don’t bring happiness,” because of course they do. Chic new clothing item, fancy car, the latest cell phone, amazing meal at a fancy restaurant. Also, legitimate sources of happiness. 
But lasting fulfillment? Not so much.

In Patrick A Coleman’s great “How to Turn Happy Children Into Happy Adults,” for Fatherly.com, he advises parents to avoid placing a lot of emphasis on all of the above, and other material things, as sources of lasting fulfillment. Children who see their parents placing undue importance on such things will have the same values, even as they see authority figures wrestle with disappointment when the “thrill of attainment” wears off.

Coleman writes: “An emerging understanding of happiness, lead by the new field of positive psychology, may offer a path lined with actionable insights. You might have to rethink material comforts, revisit character values, and really pay attention to a kid’s strengths. It’s not easy, but it’s the best way to avoid being the parent of a child who ‘has it all’ and yet no happiness to show for it.”

Number one tip is to look beyond the short term. Take the long view.

Lasting happiness cannot be bought with stuff. Try not to let economics dictate what makes you happy, and teach your child the same. To focus on the acquisition of stuff  stresses the need to get ahead, stay ahead, and constantly do better than your peers, financially. Coleman calls it “modern intensive parenting,” and he notes it’s not only stressful, but also very expensive.

Positive psychology practitioner Robert Zeitlin asserts, “Happiness is a path that people are on, rather than a destination. Research points to ways people lead more gratifying lives rather than pleasurable lives. The differentiation is a short term boost in mood versus a long term character-based gain.”

These insights are coming out of the era of internet-based instant gratification, of short-term pleasure bursts that make us briefly feel good but ultimately, like an intoxicant, leave us ultimately even hungrier, lonelier than before. It’s no surprise the ancient realization that a gratifying life is achieved by different means than simply a pleasurable life.

Kids learn this stuff from us based on our values, whether we like it or not. The idea that it is paramount that we achieve our defined short-term goals like the unnecessary upgrade or the bigger SUV, will reflect on our kid’s decisions as they approach adulthood.

READ MORE: 7 steps to improving your child’s self-esteem

All the while, positive psychology shows that true happiness, the long-term personal fulfillment, comes from building on character strengths.

Character strengths, valued and recognized in almost every culture, are independent of politics. According to Coleman, “They range from curiosity and creativity to bravery, kindness, humor, fairness, and forgiveness. [They] are not linked to goals. They are part of the values that parents naturally try to build in their children by encouraging kids to be fair or practice self-control, kindness, and honesty.”

According to Coleman, stressing the importance of these character strengths is the key to happiness for children and adults alike. Although the blaring of our culture’s acquisitive values may be hard to drown out, it can be done.



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