By Ricky Dragoni
Every parent wants nothing more, but for their kids to be happy. The problem is; how do we define happiness? As adults we have millions, if not billions of definitions of what it means to be happy. Yet somehow we want our kids to attain this mythical state of nirvana, just because we want to will it so. There are many theories, methods, parenting styles on how to help our kids achieve that happiness, but the reality is that the answer is unique to each individual, and only they can achieve it for themselves.
As logical as it may sound, when I had my second son, I was astonished on how different my two boys were from each other. Their temperaments, likes, dislikes, personalities and behavior can be so different that it still baffles me some days. I have a laid back, surfer dude, cello playing, soccer player who focuses on details in my oldest. Then I have an always intense, force of nature, drum banging, super athlete, and focus on the big picture in my little one. So in my fatherly search for their happiness I realized that it is not something I can just give to them.
Everyone’s happiness is personal, unique and quest we must achieve for ourselves. To think I can just give it to them like a toy, or protect their happiness, as scary as it might sound, is simply impossible. But what I can do as their father is give them the tools to find their own personal happiness as they make their way through life.
So what are these few tools I have learned in my quest for my personal happiness which I can pass on to them? Let me start by saying that I don’t think I am right, or claim to know the keys to happiness by any means. But I have learned a few things by trial and error, a lot and I mean a LOT of error, so hopefully some of it works for them.
The first thing I am currently pounding into their heads, like my grandfather Tito did to me, is to have their priorities straight. When you know what is truly important in life, being happy becomes a little easier. We spend so much of our lives chasing things, possessions and people who we think might make us happy. But if we take a step back and truly prioritize what is important, we can follow what will bring us true happiness.
Second I am teaching them by example how a lot of our personal happiness comes from making others happy. Call me silly, but putting a smile in someone’s face, truly fills me with joy. Helping someone when they need help, gives me a sense of fulfillment nothing I do for myself can ever provide me. So I teach them to find a part of their happiness in giving happiness to others.
Third I teach them to live in the moment. Enjoy today, for it is all that is certain. It sounds cliché “carpe diem”, but wiser words have never been uttered. Kids love to dream, and I hope my boys keep dreaming as I do still to this day. Kids also worry about what ifs, to the point of driving me nuts with questions sometimes. So I remind them to live in today, to do the things today to either achieve their dreams or alleviate their concerns. I teach them not to worry about the things they can’t control in the future, and instead focus and work on the things they can control today. Living in the moment is not about jumping of cliffs and taking impromptu road trips. Living in the moment is about controlling your present so you can carve out your future.
Lastly and incredibly important I teach them to be themselves. Yes sometimes them, being themselves, annoys the living crap out of me, but a few headaches are more than worth their search of self-discovery. We live in a society in which we worry so much about what everyone else is doing. We follow fashion trends, people go broke trying to keep up with the Joneses and people try to make themselves feel better by putting others down. It is a minefield and a scary, angry place out there in the real world sometimes. So I foster a strong sense of self in my boys.
We are a sports family, I coach, they play everything their little heart’s desire and I drive them around like a maniac but with a big smile on my face. The conversation of them wanting to be like this or that players surfaces a lot. I take those moments to teach and reemphasize that they should never, ever, ever, ever, EVER, live their lives trying to be like someone else. I always tell them, to be the best them, that they can be. Whether it is in soccer, football, baseball, cello, drums, singing, dancing, writing, architecture, or whatever they choose to be. I tell them, repeatedly and without hesitation, that they be the best version of themselves that they can be, and to always try to be better.
These are just a few of the main lessons I try to impart on them, but there are many others. Some of which I don’t realize I can teach them until the moment presents itself. I have come to peace with the reality that I cannot just provide them with happiness. I can provide my boys with love; I can teach them what little I know, I can make sure they are safe and healthy. But their long term happiness as individuals is something they will have to find for themselves. I will always be there to support them, offer them guidance and pick them up whenever they need it. Hopefully the tools I give them will lead them not only to be happy individuals, but to spread that happiness to others.