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Creating Happiness In Children

Generally, research indicates that despite having a level of material wealth that would boggle the eyes of even the wealthiest Indian maharaja of the past, we are, if anything, slightly less happy than we were 50 years ago. While a certain level of financial security is associated with happiness - and there is a tendency for wealthy countries to have more satisfied people - money doesn't have a lot to do with it. Thanks to our ability to adapt to ever-greater fame and fortune, yesterday's luxuries all too soon become today's necessities and tomorrow's garage sale items.

Creating Happiness In Children

Aristotle concluded that, more than anything else, people seek happiness. Yet, it is elusive. In his book Flow, Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi - Professor of Psychology at the University of Chicago - points out that frustration is deeply woven into the fabric of life - whenever some of our needs are met, we immediately start wishing for more. The paradox is that with rising expectations, true quality of life is unattainable. Happiness is difficult to achieve partly because the universe was not designed with the comfort of human beings in mind. The world does not provide happiness. Happiness is created by people.

Contrary to what we may believe, happiness is not mostly associated with passive, relaxing times. We have an idea that whiling away the hours beside a pool at a tropical resort, a drink in hand and an object of desire nearby should be our happiest moment. While I am personally prepared to sacrifice myself to undertake further research in this area, it does appear that our happiest times aren't when we are passively relaxing but when we are being unselfconsciously absorbed in a mindful challenge - that is, an activity that immerses us in the experience so deeply that we forget to some extent about who we are and what our daily concerns are. After such experiences, we look up and think, "Where did the time go?" People often describe this state of being immersed in an experience as "flow:"

These activities are ones where we have the skills to meet the challenge, and where the relationship between the challenges and the skills is balanced. If the challenge is too great, we experience anxiety. If the challenge is too easy, and we don't need to draw on our skills, we become bored. People report a range of activities that they engage in to develop a sense of flow: sports, games, socializing, drawing, art, music, reading, gardening, fishing, walking, playing with children or pets, even work.

The distinctive feature of all these activities is that typically they involve people setting their own goals and providing their own rewards. It is by engaging in these activities that they free themselves from needing to wait for the outside world to provide challenges and rewards.

The knack of finding activities that produce this sense of flow in life is not something that children are often taught in their schools or homes. The pressure upon schools and time-poor parents to provide immediate gratification and entertainment for their children creates a maelstrom of activity that too often robs the young people of the opportunity of getting into flow.
Our young people often experience a rush of stimulation, which may not cause anxiety but certainly increases arousal. Then, when the source of the stimulation is switched off, they wander around the house complaining, "I'm bored. There's nothing to do." Eventually they become passively dependent on the world to amuse and entertain them, and they believe they should always be happy. Invariably the world lets them down, because it is not a very reliable or fair provider of challenges and rewards, so they lose motivation. Even worse than losing motivation, it's all the world's (and that includes their parents') fault! 

This can lead to a type of wistful envy: 
  • "If only we lived in a different area/closer to/further away from school"; 
  • "If only my parents were cool/had a better car/nicer house"; 
  • "If only I had a better group of friends." 

In time, this leads to a reliance on materialism and prevents young people from taking responsibility for creating a fulfilling life for themselves. To find out more, you can check out Creating Happiness In Children.