Teaching kids about happiness

I am a cup-half-full kind of person. Always have been. And one of my goals is to teach my kids that while happiness is a feeling, there are things we can practice to help us be happier. More importantly, I would never want them to believe that another person holds the key to their happiness.

Last year, Iana started the habit of asking me if I were happy. I do not know where she got the idea but I thought it harmless and sweet, even, as I felt how much she cared for me. Whenever I answered yes (well, I always was in a good mood whenever she asked me), I knew she was genuinely happy, too.

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A couple of months ago, I had a bad day. That night, while carrying Iana up the stairs, she asked me if I were happy. I stopped walking and asked her to kiss me. After she did, I replied that I was. She looked satisfied when she heard my answer.

For a couple of weeks, that became our usual routine. She would ask me if I were happy, I would ask her to kiss me, then I would answer yes. Of course, after a few times, she associated her kisses with my happiness (as any two year old kid would). I know most people would not see anything wrong with this. In fact, most parents’ joy centers on their children. Something was nagging at me, however; I felt that something was not right.

Then while in Palawan about a month ago, I was really pissed with the restaurant we were at. We just came from a 3hr van ride and we endured an hour’s worth of rough, zigzag roads. We needed to catch our boat to an island and we only had 45 minutes to have lunch. Our food was served after 30 minutes and it turned out that my food was not prepared. And because we only had 15 more minutes, I could not anymore order food for myself.

(Just to put this in context, I am used to slow to bad service when we’re in far-flung places. In Bantayan Island, we endured waiting for an hour for food on empty stomachs and I did not get angry. In one restaurant in San Vicente, Palawan, all the dishes I wanted to order from the menu were not available that I ended up just telling them what to buy in the palengke. So for me to feel this way, this particular experience was really frustrating.)

The kids could feel how upset I was. Usually I try to be kind and generally be a good model to my kids but that time, my hunger and tiredness and the heat overcame my resolve. Iana came up to me and hugged and kissed me. After a while, she asked me, “Mommy, are you happy?”

I debated with myself: Should I lie and say yes? Hmmm… lying is a no-no so I scrapped it. Should I say yes and make an effort to calm myself? Honestly, I knew this was the best option but (and this is more honest and I am ashamed of myself) the bratty part of me chose to assert itself at that moment.

My last option was to say no. I took it.

“No, I’m not.”

She looked at me angrily and replied, “But I already kissed you and hugged you, REMEMBER?”

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Her words stunned me! Apparently, our seemingly harmless routine made her feel that she was responsible for MY happiness. Imagine how much of a burden that was for any kid, much less a toddler! Iana’s expression of anger and frustration when I said no was such an eye-opener. In the same manner that I do not want any of my kids to believe that other people dictate their happiness, I also do not want them to feel responsible for others’ happiness.

As a mom, I am normally intentional with the things I do but this time, I messed up. I was overcome with guilt but because guilt without action is worthless, I took steps to reverse what I have done. These days, Iana seldom asks me if I were happy but every time she does, I place less emphasis now on emotions which are fleeting (like happiness or sadness or anger) but on decisions and actions (like looking at the bright side of things). And thankfully, she is catching up and our script has changed.

With the omnipresence of social media and it’s grading system of likes and loves and non-responses, it is important to teach our kids that their happiness depends on themselves and not on any other person (Imagine a love struck teen-ager!). It is also important to teach them not to take responsibility for other people’s happiness (And again, imagine a love-struck teen-ager!). So even while I while I berated myself on bringing this on, I am grateful that I realized the impact of what I did early on. This afternoon, after fixing our garden, Iana asked me again, “Mommy, are you happy?” And then without waiting for my reply, she said, “I know, you are deciding happiness.” 🙂

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