We love our children. We'd do almost anything to support their happiness, enjoy their smile. In fact, many of us have been so busy doing everything we can to give them what we believe they need, we might have overlooked the input kids are giving these days. And, yet, the issue of happiness is in the news.
Over the past month, you've probably come across quite the conversation about happiness studies. We've read, and heard, about longitudinal research on women's happiness, and an apparent decline in their experience of it over the past years. A few weeks ago, Russell Bishop, of the Huffington Post added to the dialogue with his piece on male happiness, to which many readers responded.
Maybe because I've loved being a 'roving reporter' over the years, I set out three weeks ago to discover whatever I could about this subject, as it applies to our youth. My protocol was simple. After asking any guardians in view, I approached kids at various locations (school yards, playgrounds, grocery stores, movie theaters, etc), and asked them if they would help me. I told them the truth: that I was interested in what they could teach me about their experience, so the 'big people' could learn. True, thirty-six conversations hardly equates to what research reveres as 'statistical significance.' On the other hand, thirty-six stories can be a wealth of information in their own right simply because they are true experiences.
Their response was heart-warming, at the very least, and instructive, as well. First, let me tell you that only four children I approached were hesitant, or uninterested. All the other thirty-six were willing participants. So much so that I've decided to offer you the second part of the story next week, due to lack of space in this column. The fact is that each boy and girl seemed quite pleased that someone truly wanted to 'hear' their heart, as well as took what they said seriously enough to write it down on a clipboard. So, to my co-authors out there, I want to say a very big thank you for being my teacher!
Here are some of the responses representing the key categories. Note, please, that I have altered names to protect anonymity. The key summary to each question runs as follows:
"When are you happiest? What makes you happiest?"
Amy, age four: "My mommy's cuddle."
Jerry, age four: "When my daddy isn't so mad all the time."
Alexi, age five: "Fishing with my grandpa. But now he went and died. Nobody
wants to fish with me...sad."
Andy, age eight: "Having a catch with my dad. Now he's too busy
working....lost his job so he's got to go to two jobs. No more
catch with my dad."
Marlee, age ten: "When my mom lets me put on her lipstick. Well, she
doesn't want me to so much, but I do it and wipe it off when
she's on the phone. She's on her cell most of the time."
Mary Jo, age fifteen: "I'm happiest when I'm with my friends. I used to be the
most happy with my parents just going to the zoo, stuff like
that. Now they hate each other. Since their divorce, they fight
all the time. My friends don't fight so much. Well,
O.K., they do sometimes, but we're not going to divorce each
"What would make you happier more of the time?"
Sarah, "three...almost four"
" happy is strawberry ice cream for breakfast, and
if my daddy come home more..."
Jerry, age four: "If my daddy kissed my mommy more, and smiled..."
Millie, age five: "If my mama liked me better. (To 'how would you know?')...
She would laugh at my jokes, take naps with me, read me
stories like Annie's mama...She'd send the T.V. back to the
store with her phone. She'd just like me. She'd color with me."
Andy, age eight: "If my dad got a real job, just one job, and then he wouldn't
be so sad, and then he'd remember to play with me...If my mom
didn't worry so much about money."
Marlee, age ten: "If my mom liked me as much as her friends....If she
wouldn't answer her phone all the time when I'm talking....
Oh, yeah, and if my dad liked me as much as the neighbor
kid who's a 'brown-nose'....My dad doesn't even know
he smokes pot. He thinks he's such a goodie goodie...Oh, and
if my mom's boyfriends would go home more...."
Jeremy, age sixteen: "If my mom really trusted me. She's always telling me what
I didn't do and doesn't notice what I do that's good. Also,
if my loser dad paid up what he owes since the divorce...and
if he where actually nice to my mom. She worries about us.
I'd be happier if my mom were happier. She was when I was
a little kid before my old man left me, I mean 'us.'"
Take-aways. So, there you have it, for now. Despite the fact that a number of parents predicted kids would equate happiness with acquiring the latest toys and gadgets advertised on television, this was not the case. Not once! What our children, if they are anything like these kids, most want is:
• our attention,
• our warmth,
• our enjoyment of being with them, and
• our presence in their lives.
Apparently, they are not 'outgrowing' this need. Consider, for example, what is happening in mental health. According to recent reports, we've never had a higher incidence of mental illness issues on our college campuses, and is rising 'as we speak.' And, although hospitals are reticent to report it publicly, let me assure you that the incidence of mental/emotional poor health in our little guys is rising, as well.
In the name of returning to what we relish with our kiddos, enjoy the following.
Let us hear from you about what kids have taught you about happiness. What did happiness mean to you as a child? What can you do to be a happiness bridge to children, whether you know them or not? What would you like to communicate to a child you meet today?
Follow Dr. Cara Barker on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DrCaraBarker