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What makes children happy - a new toy, a bar of chocolate, a nice frilly dress? These things might bring immediate happiness, and a smile to their faces, but it's not these things that will make them into happy adults.
Despite the fact all of us want to be happy, and hope our children will be happy, there is not that much research on discovering the key to happiness. Psychologists tend to focus on how to make unhappy people less unhappy rather than how to make happy people even happier.
There is a line of study that focuses on positive psychology and the study of being happy. It has found that being rich does not necessarily make you happy and that those in very poor or deprived situations are not necessarily unhappy. It seems once we reach a certain level of income, no more money will make you any happier.
- More money leads to higher aspirations which cannot always be met which leads to a feeling of disappointment and unhappiness
- Jealousy: once you have more you see what others have and you are less happy with your own possessions.
Happy, secure relationships seem to be the once constant factor in happy people's lives. And, it is the relationship that children have with their parents that can be a deciding factor in their overall and long term happiness. Why? Because a good relationship can mean a child has higher self-esteem, has a positive view of the world and higher expectations.
When left with other people, a secure child may be upset when the parents leave but will easily be comforted after a short while and then will play happily. When the parent returns they will be happy to see the parent. An insecure child will be very upset and remain upset when a parent goes. On returning, the child will likely ignore or avoid the parent.
However, not all children will be doomed to an unhappy life if this is the case...but there is a link showing secure children are more likely to grow up with fewer relationship problems (with friends, spouses and their own children).
This is the idea that children know what they are good at and are pleased when their skill or achievement is noticed by others. They feel proud and happy that they have done well. This doesn't mean to say they should only be encouraged to be the best or do the best... instead they should be encouraged to try and have a go and be rewarded by undertaking an activity. They will play a game for the fun or it rather than only to win.
It has to be noted that genetics play a part in happiness. If your parents tend to be happy, then you will. This may be linked to the inherited personality traits (extroverts tend to be happier than introverts).
So, the best thing we can do as parents is to try to develop a good relationship with our children: encourage and engage with them to do activities and focus on tasks together and encourage and stimulate them as much as we can. ...and the odd chocolate button would be a nice treat too!