What makes us happy and how to raise happy children?

The eternal question is what makes us happy and what makes our children to grow into happy adults.

I signed up for a talk with Paul Dolan, professor of Behavioural Science at LSE who will present his new book How to Escape the Myth of the Perfect Life: A radical new approach to Happiness in London, January 22 18:45 with How to Academy (details here).

To prepare for the talk, I read Dolan’s previous bestseller, Happiness by Design: Finding Pleasure and Purpose in Everyday Life, which gives an interesting view: happiness is an intricate balance between immediate pleasure and life meaningfulness. So, the life is less about trading off happiness now for happiness later (and vice versa) and more about trading off pleasure and purpose at different rates at different times.

Dolan’s main idea is that one has to pay attention to what makes one miserable or happy.  Paying attention to how your behaviour affects your feelings is critical to understanding what makes you happy and what does not. The difference is not to pay attention to what we think should make us happy rather focus on what actually does.

How we can turn these observations into practical advice for parent? I would say:

 

1)     Teach children to be tuned into their own feelings: either through mindfulness or just developing a habit to discuss the day that passed and emotions the day have brought during the dinner all together.

2)     Allow your children enough unstructured space and time as well as breadth of experiences to understand what they enjoy doing.

3)     Teach your children self-control to be able to trade off pleasure and purpose when the time comes. You can read about Walter Mischel's Marshmallow experiments to see the empirical connection between self-control and happiness.

4)     Encourage your child’s ability to celebrate life. The older we get, the more we forget how to notice little things that makes us happy.  I practice gratitude by asking my children to remember one thing that made them happy during the day and why.

5)     Discuss with your child the purpose and meaning of life covering areas of friends & family, significant other, health, financial independence, career, personal growth and contribution to community (see the wheel of life concept).   This looks like a too big concept to discuss with little children, but one can start with simple things like why healthy eating matters and move to importance of family to lay the necessary foundation.

Not that I pretend to know answers on how to be happy but I think to be aware what makes the difference helps.  I hope to see many of you on Jan 22 at the Paul Dolan’s talk.