The happiness myth

March 8, 2017

The happiness myth.

Nearly every parent I see tells me that they just want their child to be happy. This is a perfectly understandable but curiously misplaced wish. Happiness is something that cannot be acquired or pursued in a concrete sense. It is more a fleeting sense of well-being that arises as a result of engaging with something else. A childhood is rarely an endless series of happy events; in fact I would argue that being a child is full of stressful events and difficult challenges. Furthermore if our children had continuously happy lives how would they be able to deal with the inevitable arrival of ‘unhappiness’.

There are further problems with this issue of happiness namely how we interpret unhappiness. Is it something we should be concerned about, in the sense of it being some sort of indicator of mental distress? Or is it something we should just ignore, in the sense of it being a part of life? These questions are made more complex by the way in which ‘happiness’ has become a must have accessory. Browse anyone’s instagram or facebook account and you will see how important it is to show everyone how ‘happy’ you are.

This presents us parents with a problem. If our children are covertly being signed up to the pursuit of ‘happiness’ how do we intervene and reconfigure them so to speak.

One of the things we need to understand is difference between happiness and pleasure and the second is we need to understand the difference between unhappiness as a symptom of something troubling and when it is the result of frustration or disappointment.

I have stated above that happiness is a fleeting sense of well-being that arises as a result of engaging with something else. It is not the same as the pleasure you get from gratification. So if your child says they will be ‘very happy’ if you buy them the latest smartphone they are talking about gratification not happiness. Conversely it is not a sign of an impending psychological disorder if they tell you they will be ‘very unhappy’ if you don’t buy them one. That is just frustration or disappointment.

If your child seems lethargic, low and seemingly unable to derive much enjoyment from life then they may very well be unhappy in the proper psychological sense and you need to try to do something about it.

You can do a bit of detective work by asking their school and you can try and talk to them about it. If they are unwilling to open up you could try involving a professional.

My view is that we need to focus a lot less on how to make them happy and more on the following

  1. How to develop a good work ethic
  2. How to help them become emotionally and psychologically resilient.
  3. Help them learn how to make and sustain healthy relationships.

These are the things that will help them become healthy adults.

If this topic is of interest, I discuss it in much more detail in my book which is coming out in mid May 2017called, We need to talk, how to raise resilient teenagers. (Vermillion)


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