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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Children and happiness

I am among those who think happiness is a skill that can be learned. Like anything else, if you start early, you can guide a child to his/her discovery of what it takes to lead a happy life.

This is why I often grab opportunities to slip a little bit of "happiness training" in daily life interactions with my kids. An easy way, for example, is to play the "grateful game": we each have to name at least one thing we are grateful for at the end of the day. (Hopefully that somehow compensates for all the whining and complaining!)

During her latest visit at the school library, my youngest daughter, A, chose the following book: Woof. A Love Story by Sarah Weeks.

This is a lovely tale of a dog falling in love with a cat. Not only does it emphasize the acceptance of difference and positive relationships between individuals belonging to separate groups, as well as underlining the universal language that music is, it also contains a wonderful "happiness debriefing" prompt:

When a dog's low and his troubles seem big, one thing that may help cheer him up is to dig. He'll dig and he'll dig 'til his spirits are lifted, and things can turn up in the dirt that he's shifted. Sometimes a coin or a shoe or a stone, but this doggie dug up-a shiny brass bone.

This passage led me to ask the girls, "What do YOU do to lift your spirits when you are low and your troubles seem big?" They were quick at answering. A said "I go see Mudslide" (Mudslide is our cat and has a gift for comforting sad children, I must admit). R (my oldest daughter) said: "I read" (Oh yes. She does). Not bad, I thought. Cats and books are an excellent starting point!

This also made me realize that among all the strategies we have to get out of the blues, some are healthy (petting a cat, reading a book). But some are not (hence the numerous addictions that cripple so many people). I myself have a tendency to go right for chocolate ice cream. Which is not a dangerous drug, you might argue (I wouldn't be so sure!), but hey, there must be a healthier way to deal with problems.

Once when dealing with a "difficult" employee at the swimming pool I was in charge of, it got to a point where the discussion between us made me boil inside with anger. Of course, I hid it well (repeat the mantra: "Stay professional. Stay professional. Stay professional") but once she had left my office, there was only one thing on my mind. I looked at the clock: I still had 10 minutes before the end of the lunch break. I quickly put on my swimming suit, dove in, and swam fast laps until I regained my calmness. Guess what? It worked. Turns out exercising vigorously is very effective at wiping off negative thoughts.

What are YOUR strategies to regain your cool or ditch the blues?

Warning: as a parent, as much as you can guide your children on the path to happiness, you don't want to overdo it either. Happiness is a general state of mind; being happy does not mean being content at all times. Check out this awesome article for more details. The 4 pages, plus the video, are all worthy of your time.

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