“What do you want to be when you grow up?” is a common question that all young kids get asked. And as our children grow older, that question often transforms and gets asked of us, their parents. Let’s move beyond wanting them to just be happy.
“What do you see your child doing as an adult?” Or “what career do you think your student would be successful in?” And the default response for so many of us is this one: “I just want them to be happy.” Because in theory that sounds right and good. We know there’s so much more to life than jobs and work. Many parents just want to envision their children as happy adults, and that was the response that I often used to give as well.
But as we move through life and face its ups and downs, we must accept that it’s not all happy. And one of our jobs as parents, is to help our children understand and accept that as well. I don’t want my kids to feel that the goal of life is to just be happy.
I want my kids to lean into all of their feelings, whether it’s joy, sadness, anger or confusion. I want them to understand that a relentless pursuit of happiness is neither important nor practical, and that trying to immediately brush away negative emotions is not healthy.
I want my kids to feel angry – about injustice in the world. I want them to push themselves and feel frustration when they encounter challenges and need to find a way to come up with solutions. I want them to fully feel sadness and to mourn death and sit with disappointments.
I want them to feel confused when they don’t understand something and know there’s a need to work hard and communicate with others to gain insights and knowledge.
Because the unhappy times in life make us appreciate the happy times so much more. And the unhappy times gift us with empathy for others who also struggle and suffer with challenges.
I hope that my children will come to realize that when your aspiration in life is simply to be happy, you can’t really be looking around and truly seeing the world as it is. Much more than happiness, I want my kids to aspire to daily gratitude and to kindness. Because life is not a round-the-clock party. But when they develop appreciation for all that is good in their life, and they make frequent efforts to help others experience goodness in their lives, satisfaction, peace and contentment are usually the result.