Things I’ve learnt about happiness from children
I recently started a ‘Happy Kids Club’ at my children’s junior school. It came into existence from my ongoing studies into happiness and how it has huge benefits for both individuals and whole communities.
It’s Mental Health Awareness Week and the statistics showing how many children struggle with mental health issues is staggering. The club isn’t to ‘teach’ kids how to be happy – they already know that. It is more to remind them it is ok to be happy and let them teach each other… and me.
With that old saying in mind that I am a human being not a human doing here are 5 ‘Be’s I have learnt:
1. Be in the moment. My clearest example of this lesson is one my daughter taught me when she had just started walking. It was a rainy spring day and we had a heap of chores to run, the car was in the garage to be fixed and she wanted to walk. After some time of trying to control the situation of putting her in the pushchair and the screaming in indignation from her and the stress from me I decided to take a different approach (or I caved, depending on how you want to look at it!) She got out and we went at her speed, splashing in puddles, stopping at every flower, bug and different drain cover examining the details. Some of the chores didn’t get done that day, but the fact that seven years on I still remember that bit of that day with total joy says it all.
2. Be curious. One of my mentors when I first started my journey as a coach said ‘you can never be angry, or annoyed and curious at the same time.’
I’m not saying that children don’t feel and act their whole range of emotion but from the infant dropping a toy repeatedly to find out what will happen each time, to the more complex social situations and games - curiosity is key. Children, in fact we all, are constantly learning and experimenting. I think this is such an important skill in life. If we start believing we know all the outcomes, that we know best then we can rob ourselves from the happiness that comes from learning new things, the excitement of what could happen next and most importantly the mental flexibility that helps us manage and cope with constant change.
3. Be light. For me understanding the opposite of this is helpful, I see heaviness as overly serious, the weight of responsibility, being grumpy and stiff – things have to be done my way. I find the times I’m like that I actually make things harder to move through. It feels like walking through treacle. Lightness can help to shift situations and moods. Recently my son came out of school in a bad mood, he was tired and (possibly hangry!) and one of his favourite teachers had told him off for something that he felt wasn’t his fault. His friend who came home with us was in a much better mood and managed very quickly with some kind words and a joke was able to help him shift to laughing and giggling. After chucking and an after school snack that heavy energy had vanished and it was like it never happened. As adults sometimes we have people we go to the help us through that transition, but it is also possible to do this internally, to take note of our feeling and let it go.
4. Be willing to step into other people’s worlds. When we have infants around its common to get down on the ground, sit on the floor with them, be at their eye level. Before they can speak we interact in so many other ways, but as they get older this can often stop. It becomes more about getting homework done, getting dinner ready and to school and to clubs and debates about screen time. Our dismay when the suggestion of quality time of playing a board game or whatever your equivalent is called boring. Something I have learnt is that being the one to shift into their world, rather than always expecting they come into mine even for just sort periods of time can change relationships in very positive ways. Studies often bring our social connection as the top factor in how happy we are, so to be willing to go to their world will help encourage them to come to yours.
5. Be Real. The thing that I find happens when I engage with the above points is that the quality of the communication and the interaction improves. I have learnt from my children and working with kids that they are great at just being themselves. They haven’t learnt to develop all the masks and the different adjustments we make to our personalities (although this does begin to happen at a surprisingly young age) and as much as these subtle differences are useful when we are able to vulnerable, to bring our true, unguarded selves into relationships there is a deeper connection and trust that is created. It allows the other person to feel safe to show their true self too. To be able to be our true self brings a freedom, and often a sense of contentment which can be the happiest things of all.
These things are all relevant when communicating with all human beings regardless of age. They are all part of the coaching process too.