Being happy is an essential life goal everyone works toward, but many forget happiness is an inherent state of being that emerges in the every day, especially from children. A three-year-old girl chases bubbles at the family reunion while everyone else fills up on barbecue, hot dogs and burgers. A five-year-old boy will not take off his dinosaur costume after Halloween and insists on wearing it to school, to the playground and out to eat.
A twin boy and girl have a light saber battle in the back yard, though one is dressed up like Superman and the other Batman. In the street, ten-year-olds perfect their moves on skateboards. Being happy is a state of mind found in daily experiences, and though adults would say they feel content overall, children are the masters of happiness. We can learn a lot from them.
How Should We Measure Happiness?
Kids get into all kinds of shenanigans, but they have much to teach adults about being happy. Dutch kids are the happiest children in the world, ahead of other children in well-being when measured side by side with 29 other rich, industrialized countries. The United States ranked 26th. Categories measured were material well-being, behavior and risks, education, health and safety and housing and environment.
The Dutch are conservative when it comes to the family unit, though the world views its policies as open-minded regarding topics of drugs, alcohol and sex. For the Dutch, the child is the center of the family unit, but they are not seen as an extension of the parents. American parents have difficulty making that distinction with their children, pushing harder for higher test scores and competitive extracurricular activities, as states keep raising the bar.
Happiness in American Homes
When will it let up? Americans are a friendly people, but they’re known for their competitive, go-getter attitude. From business to the home, American parents rush to get things done like there’s no tomorrow, and it’s little surprise that American parents are the least happy moms and dads in the Western world. The correlation with the happiness gap is entirely due to the absence or presence of family-friendly social policies that offer better-paid work leave in combination with family needs.
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Without these policies, moms and dads in America aren’t as happy as other parents in the Western world. The cost, time and energy that goes into raising children increases the stakes, and the societal pressure is high for Americans, who don’t have similar or often any generous policies offered by other governments. In places like Hungary and Norway, with such policies, parents are even happier than those who choose to be child-free.
Various studies measure happiness, but in your day-to-day life, how do you perceive happiness? Happier parents make for happier kids. However, kids typically have less on their plate, more moments to pause, reflect, create and run wild.
It’s Time to Take Inspiration From the Kids
Forget what society or some study says for a moment. Recall the last time you watched your kids play or erupt with joy and awe at experiencing something new. You’re smiling at their happiness, aren’t you?
Positive emotions, like laughter, are more contagious than negative emotions. There’s truth to the statement, “You are those you surround yourself with.” Emotional contagion takes places everywhere, from watching your kids play to participating in or overhearing gossip at the office water cooler.
What if you gave yourself the same unconditional love and empowerment that you gave to your children? How would that change your daily life?
Every day, people strive to be their best selves, but adults are harder on themselves than their children. You’re a role model who has to keep a roof over your kids’ heads. It makes sense to feel pressure, but give yourself a break. Let yourself laugh and play. Most of all, allow yourself to be caught off guard.
Join in to Gain Joy
Next time you’re at the playground or a family reunion, don’t sit there rehashing the last football game or TV show. Let laughter fill your belly and then erupt. Chase the bubbles too. When caught up in a happy moment, children aren’t afraid of looking ridiculous — because that’s half the fun of it. They’re innovative and curious, asking questions and daring to try new things.
Kids have much to teach adults about happiness. Your inner child is begging to get out and play, to experience the new and spontaneous. You may think you’re old, but you’re not dead yet — there’s still much do, be and see right now, especially experiencing happiness.
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