Childhood is all about being happy, right? Not really, says Aaron Cooper, a clinical psychologist and co-author of I Just Want My Kids To Be Happy: Why You Shouldn’t Say It, Why You Shouldn’t Think It, What You Should Embrace Instead ($15.95, Late August Press).
Why shouldn’t parents want their kids to be happy?
"Parents should want their kids to be happy. However, where parents get in trouble is when they get happiness on the brain.
"These parents devoted to their kids’ happiness try to set a protective bubble around their children’s life. So children aren’t encountering ordinary childhood rough spots. What we know is without the practice of facing the rough spots humans don’t develop resilience. When they hit up against a rough spot, they fall apart."
What should parents be doing instead?
"I’d like to see us really understand what leads to happy lives. The marketplace tries to convince us that there are shortcuts to happiness and we find them on the shelves of the department store. That kind of trickles down as we raise our children, we think that cheering them up with a hot fudge sundae or shopping is going to help them be happy. I’d like parents to not focus on happiness, (but) focus on the ingredients that we know lead to happy lives."
What are some of these ingredients?
"A sense of gratitude is one that turns up many, many times in the lives of happy people. They feel good about what they’ve got, rather than always chasing for bigger, better, wealthier.
"Another seed is acts of loving kindness. It means people who do things for others, either volunteer work, neighborliness, preparing a pot of soup for a sick friend, giving to charity.
"And closeness to others."
What’s the most important message for parents?
"Kids are drowning in happiness and it’s crippling them in their emotional development. It’s OK for kids to be disappointed and upset without parents interfering in that. To develop our emotional muscles, we all know the phrase ‘no pain, no gain.’ This is the sadness and frustration of life’s ordinary adversity and there’s a lot of gain for kids if we don’t interfere and let kids cope with them."