Parents: Don’t Focus on Happiness, Help Build Resilience – Big Think | Wonder Mind Kids

excerpt from GOOD INSIDE: A guide to becoming the parent you want to be by Becky Kennedy. Copyright © 2022 Dr. Becky Kennedy. Published by Harper Wave, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

“My children should be happier than they are,” one mother tells me. “They have everything they could ever need, and yet all these little things bother them.”

“My daughter worries so much about such big things – homelessness, death, injustice around her. . . and she’s only seven!” says a father in my office. “I always tell her, ‘Stop worrying! Let’s think about all the good things in your life!’ but still she is awake at night and cannot sleep.”

“I was a pretty lonely, depressed kid,” one mother confides. “I want to be a different parent to my children than my parents were to me. My partner gets mad at me because he says I always save our kids and make life too easy for them. Is it that bad? Don’t you want your children to be happy, Dr. Becky?”

Do I want my children to be happy? Secure! Of course! And yet I don’t think happiness is what these parents are really talking about. I think there is something much deeper going on. Think about it: What actually leads to happiness? Does it empower our children to eliminate their worries and loneliness and keep them comfortable at all times so that they can cultivate their happiness by themselves? What do we really mean when we say, “I just want my kids to be happy”? What are we talking about when we say, “Cheer up!” or “You have so much to be happy about!” or “Why can’t you just be happy?” For my part, I don’t think we’re talking about it cultivate happiness as much as we talk Avoid fear and distress. Because when we focus on happiness, we ignore all the other emotions that inevitably crop up in our children’s lives, which means we don’t teach them how to manage those emotions. And once again, how we teach our children—through our interactions with them—to deal with pain or distress will affect how they feel about themselves and their problems for decades to come.

I don’t know of any single parent who doesn’t want the best for their children. Count me among them: I want the best for my children! And yet I’m not sure if “the best thing” for her is “just to be happy.” To me, happiness is a lot less convincing than resilience. After all, Cultivating happiness depends on regulating stress. We have to feel secure before we can feel happy. Why do we need to learn to regulate the difficult things first? Why can’t happiness just “win” and “beat” all other emotions? That would certainly be easier! Unfortunately, just like in life, the most important things in parenting require hard work and time; It’s certainly not easy to help your child build resilience, but I promise it’s worth it.

Think of your body as a large vessel. Floating around are all the different emotions you could possibly feel. For the sake of simplicity, let’s assume that there are two main categories of emotions: those that make you feel upset and those that make you feel “happier.” In our emotion jar we have every single emotion under the sun. The magnitude of each emotion—and therefore the space it occupies in the glass at any given time—is constantly changing. Now think about it: Our body has an innate alarm system and is always looking for it danger above all else. When we can’t handle emotions like disappointment, frustration, envy, and sadness—when they take up all the space in the emotion jar—our body triggers a stress response.

And it’s not just the difficult feelings themselves that make our bodies feel insecure. We also Feeling stressed when stressedor experience fear of fear. In other words (assuming there is no actual physical threat, but simply the “threat” of uncomfortable, overwhelming emotions), when we start thinking, “Ah! I need to make this feeling go away immediately,” the distress grows and grows, not in response to the original experience, but because we believe those negative emotions are wrong, bad, scary, or too much. Ultimately, this is how the fear settles in a person. Anxiety is intolerance to discomfort. It’s the experience of not wanting to be in your body, the idea that you should feel different in that particular moment. And this is not a product of “being a downer” or “seeing the glass half empty”; it is a product of evolution. Our bodies don’t allow us to “relax” when we think the feelings inside us are overwhelming and frightening. So where’s the luck here? Well it’s crowded. It cannot appear.

Of course it doesn’t have to be that way. The wider the range of emotions we can regulate — dealing with frustration, disappointment, envy, and sadness — the more room we have to cultivate happiness. Regulating our emotions essentially develops a cushion around those feelings, softening them and preventing them from consuming the entire glass. First regulation, then luck. And that carries over to our upbringing: the wider the range of feelings we we can name and tolerate in our children (again, this does not mean behaviors), the wider the range of feelings you will be able to cope safely, giving them an increased ability to feel at home with themselves.

Subscribe for counterintuitive, surprising, and impactful stories delivered to your inbox every Thursday

Do I want my children to experience happiness? Without a doubt, yes. I want them to be happy as children and as adults; That’s why I focus so much on building resilience. In many ways, resilience is our ability to experience a wide range of emotions and still feel like ourselves. Resilience helps us recover from stress, failure, mistakes, and adversity in our lives. Resilience enables happiness to emerge.

Developing resilience does not mean that we become immune to stress or struggle – these are, of course, inevitable facts of life – but our resilience determines how we live affect to these difficult moments and how we experience them. Resilient people cope better with stressful moments. Here’s a helpful (albeit slightly simplified) equation: Stress + coping = inner experience. The good news? Resilience is not a static trait that children possess or lack; It is a skill that can be cultivated and will hopefully support parents in teaching their children from a young age. Because we can’t always change the stressors around us, but we can always work on our ability to access resilience.

Leave a Comment