“Don’t worry. Be happy.” It seems simple, but it’s certainly not. Worry is one of the biggest killers of happiness, but things like sickness, death, stress, pain, and a plethora of other things can fight against our happiness. Here’s the thing about it, though… they don’t make you unhappy. Nothing makes you unhappy except you.
Happiness is a choice. Granted, sometimes it’s a very hard choice and you have any number of things on your plate that may make that choice seem to be an impossible one. But the truth still stands that you get to choose whether you’re happy or not. It’s like love. You choose it. You make an effort to keep it. It’s all about a mind-set.
For example, when my infant daughter decides that 3:00am is a good time to play and a bad time to sleep, it doesn’t exactly make me happy. I have to work in the morning. My wife has to work in the morning. We need sleep. But is it really that bad that she’s up at three and not sleeping? It’s not like she maliciously decided “Mom and Dad want to sleep but I’m going to keep them awake just out of spite.” No! She’s a baby. Babies are unpredictable. But, though I may be not so happy in that moment, the simplest thing can remind me that happiness is a state of mind I choose… a smile. My daughter smiles and everything is fine. I’m happy. But, keep in mind her smile didn’t make me happy. It just reminded me that there’s no reason to make myself sad or upset or frustrated. Sometimes we just need a reminder.
Simple reminders may not be the answer when life throws bigger things at us. Losing a loved one. Getting your home destroyed by a flood or a fire. Debilitating sickness. There are so many more, and these kinds of things are much harder to cope with and still find a way to be happy. The only way to do that is to turn to God and work through it with the help of your spouse, family, friends, or whomever you go to for comfort. There’s always something to latch onto which can help remind you to be happy. Maybe you lost a loved one, but it brought your remaining family closer together. You can be happy about your family and the love you all share. Maybe your home gets destroyed, but it’s just stuff. If stuff is the only thing making you happy, then I would argue you were never really happy. You get a devastating diagnosis but it helps you cherish the precious moments with loved ones that you have and you get to live each moment to the fullest.
This idea of choosing to be happy in any and every situation is extremely difficult for adults. So what makes us think that we can instill this in our kids? Are you ready for the unexpected answer? THEY ARE BETTER AT IT THAN US! Think about how quickly kids forget about a skinned knee. Or how a friend may have been mean to them one day at recess, then they are back on the jungle gym together the next day. How many kids do you know that are stressed about much of anything for more than a day?
As they get older, though, they start to get more stressed and more worried about social interactions and more concerned with having money to go out with their friends. Then, of course, there’s dating which opens up another can of worms entirely. A thing I have realized as an adult is that the next stage in life is usually harder than the previous one. A new stage comes with more to worry about and more factors that could threaten my ability to choose happiness. When I was in middle school, I would think that it’s hard to make friends, girls don’t like me, I’m not in the popular group, etc. These things made me sad sometimes. Then I got to high school and I thought, “man, middle school was easy. I had nothing to worry about. Why was I so sad about things?” Because in high school I would fret about tests, getting into college, girls, cool parties I didn’t get invited to, sneaking out of my parents’ house at night, getting grounded, etc. Then I got to college and thought “man, high school was easy. I had nothing to worry about. Why was I so sad about things?” You get the picture. Show me an adult who doesn’t sometimes wish they could have the same lack of responsibility they had in college just for a day or two and I’ll show you an adult who is lying (or doesn’t have much responsibility in their adult life).
Now, I don’t have a child in middle school or high school, so take this advice with a grain of salt. But just try to remind them to enjoy each phase for what it is. You only get to be in middle school once, so find something to enjoy; something to help remind you to be happy. You only get to go to high school once, so find something there to enjoy. Yes, there are tough things, but you can also be happy in each of those phases. If your child is having a hard time finding that thing they can enjoy in a certain phase, help them look harder. Maybe it’s some school program. Maybe it’s something at home. Maybe it’s plugging into a church youth group. Who knows?
Every child is different but every child can choose to be happy. But one thing is for sure: if their parents don’t choose happiness, the child most certainly won’t.