What do most parents want for their children? Is it to be valedictorian of their graduating class? The star player of their soccer team? Some may, but the most common reply is parents want their children to be happy. Having a happy child whose well being is first and foremost is what adults care about—more than anything else.
So, what is happiness? Research tells us it is not feeling good all the time. Instead, it’s an even-keeled mood, which is more psychologically healthy than a mood in which you achieve the highs of happiness regularly. We all know that what goes up must come down. The goal is to find that feel-good state of being without the constant need to celebrate.
Girl Scouts Happiness Badge
Learning to be in Control of our Happiness
Reaching happiness is not a destination, and you should not plan to arrive at happiness after a certain amount of concentrated work. But it does take regular effort to maintain a state of happiness. Most established techniques for becoming happier—keeping a gratitude journal, for example—are habits that we reinforce.
The desire to find happiness in a world full of less-than-happy news has gained popularity in recent years. There has been a lot of research on the topic, and educators and organizations such as Girl Scouts are finding ways to integrate activities into students and youth programming that will influence the keys to happiness.
Research has found that the number of children suffering from depression and anxiety, especially since the pandemic, is on the rise. More than two-thirds of adults say they are “extremely concerned” about the well being of children, and this concern cuts across gender, income, ethnicity, age, and political affiliation.
That’s why it is no surprise that Girl Scouts have taken action and created a Science of Happiness Badge for girls to earn and designed special online workshops that can be done virtually. To earn the badge, girls create a month-long strategy for increasing their own happiness, using five steps that include activities with titles like “Make yourself happier” and “Get happy through others,” as well as making a collage about someone meaningful to them, writing a list of things that make them feel good, and creating a “bliss box” of memories and souvenirs. Girls also keep journals about the activities and plans for future projects.
The badge is intended to boost the girls’ awareness of the science and psychology behind happiness and teach them that they have a measure of control over their feelings and actions.
How Parents Can Help
Start by Being a Positive Role Model
While schools and community organizations are taking steps to help children realize happiness, parents are really the key that unlocks the happiness door.
You know the old adage, “Take care of yourself before taking care of others.” That rule is essential to follow if you want a happy child. Research shows a direct link between parents who are depressed and negative outcomes in their children. And parental depression can be the cause of behavioral problems in kids.
If you want a happy child, be a happier person. Being kind to yourself is just as important as being kind to others. Take time each week to have fun and hang out with people who like to laugh—it’s contagious. Neuroscientists believe that hearing another person laugh triggers mirror neurons in a region of the brain that makes listeners feel as though they are actually laughing, so there is a real benefit. Plus, being with friends and maintaining healthy relationships is role modeling for your child.
Teach your child how to build friendships as well. It can start with encouraging them to perform small acts of kindness to build empathy. This not only builds essential skills and makes your kids better people, but research also shows over the long haul it makes them happier humans.
Another way to be a positive role model in the pursuit of happiness is to eliminate your own negative self-talk. If you catch yourself saying, “I’m such a…” statements, you can bet your children are listening and they might start saying similar things. If you have a tendency to put yourself down, make adjustments and be more mindful of what you are saying.
Steps You Can Take
On Your Happiness Journey
Be proactive in your quest for your happiness and your children’s. Here are a few suggestions for ways to focus on improving your happiness quotient.
Focus on effort, not achievement.
Research has found that parents who overemphasize achievement are more likely to have kids with high levels of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. Be mindful to praise effort at all times. When we praise children for the effort and hard work that leads to achievement, they want to keep engaging in that process.
Focus on optimism.
Do you see the glass as half empty or half full? If you want to live a better life, focus on being optimistic and see the glass half full. An optimist thinks good things will last forever, are universal, and of their own. Research tells us that when people are socially optimistic—expecting people to like them, this makes people like them more. It’s the law of attraction at work. And research shows optimists are luckier. Not because of any magic, but because, by thinking positive, they persevere and create more opportunities for themselves.
On the other hand, a pessimist thinks good things will be short-lived and are rare and random. They often quit. Life feels futile. And when life feels futile, they stop trying and frequently get depressed. Don’t worry. If you don’t define yourself or child as an optimist, there are steps you can take.
Focus on positives.
We tend to be hardwired to notice and remember the negatives more often than the positive things. Be mindful to, and teach your children to, balance this tendency by intentionally steering toward noticing positive things. Ask your child, “What made you smile today?” Ask yourself that question, too. Start a journal and have your child start a journal as well. Write down the good things that happened that day.
Take action to be positive and practice reframing your communications. Help your child approach situations differently. For example, instead of saying, “You are always late because you don’t give yourself time to get ready,” say, “I’ve noticed you seem to get to practice with no problem when you give yourself plenty of time to get ready.” Be sure to compliment them when they do take time to get ready. When you are tempted to point out the negative, reset your mind and reframe.
Focus on hope.
Teaching children to be hopeful can help build an optimistic mindset. Talk to your children about their wants and needs and help them see that they have the ability to shape their futures and make things happen for themselves.
Finally, our happiness and our children’s happiness depend on our attitude and behavior. With effort, we can all be kinder, more mindful, and learn to be more optimistic. Not only will we be better, happier people, it will make the world a better place for all of us.
If you have a daughter who is of Girl Scout age, you can take a step now and find details about the Science of Happiness virtual workshops offered throughout the year by Girl Scouts of the Colonial Coast by visiting them at www.gsccc.org.
Marcy Germanotta is director of communications for Girl Scouts of the Colonial Coast.