The Happiness Connection  

It's OK for your kids to suffer

Several years ago, a friend told me that parents are never happier than their unhappiest child.

In my experience, this is true.

I was reminded of this fact recently, when I discovered that my daughter was going through something that caused her state of well-being to plummet.

I carried a heaviness in the pit of my stomach for the first 24 hours. I didn’t sleep well, and I felt that the shine had been rubbed off my life.

How do we boost our sense of well being when our children, other close friend, or family member is suffering?

When faced with a dip in happiness because you are taking on someone else’s situation, it is important to remind yourself of a few happiness principles.

  • Their journey isn’t your journey; you are an observer rather than a participant. You can give advice, and a different point of view, but what happens is solely up to the other person. I think this is one of the biggest reasons we are affected so strongly when people we love are suffering.
  • Feeling helpless isn’t a comfortable emotion for any of us, especially if we are the proactive type. You can encourage, push, bribe, or entice as much as you like, but you can’t make action happen unless the other person decides to co-operate with your plan.
  • Put the situation into perspective. You aren’t living this challenge, you are watching someone else live it.
  • Think about your own journey through life, and some of the difficult times you have experienced. When you came out of them, what did you learn? Perhaps you discovered that you were stronger than you thought, or ending one relationship led to a new and much better one.
  • Be confident in the knowledge that although your loved one is suffering now, they are being given an opportunity to learn more about themselves and the world around them. This type of personal growth can be horrible to experience, but when you come out the other side, there is always a gift in the situation if you look for it.

Whenever you are faced with a challenging, or downright disastrous life experience, rest assured that you will come out the other side stronger, and wiser.

I take comfort from the phrase, "Sometimes when things are falling apart, they are actually falling into place."

Robustly happy people understanding that life is an undulating path, and that looking for a learning opportunity is a matter of choice.

These are the two things I leaned into when I felt myself so affected by the sadness of my child.

I trusted that she would:

  • find her way through the negative experience
  • understood that she needed to be challenged if she was going to continue to grow as a person.

Growing pains are called that for a reason.

The No. 1 thing most parents want for their children is for them to be happy. Although it is never easy to see your children suffering, it offers them an opportunity to learn more about themselves.

As the observer, you are also being given an opportunity to learn more about yourself.

I’m learning how to trust that the young adults I raised have the skills they need to travel their path without me holding their hands. I also believe that these horrible experiences will leave them stronger, and wiser.

I am being reminded that I can’t control my children’s lives. They are on their own journeys, and I need to honour that. My role is to listen, console, and pass the Kleenex.

Lastly, I am learning to give advice without any emotional attachment to the outcome. There is no guarantee that the action I think they should take, is in fact the right action for them. They need to make that decision for themselves, and then take responsibility for the outcome.

I’m not going to lie; as I saw my baby put all her happiness skills, and strategies to work to learn from her situation and find a way to move forward, I felt incredibly proud of her.

She doesn’t need me to navigate her path, she is perfectly capable of doing that for herself, and that makes me happy.

Avoid the Gossip Zone

A trouble shared is a trouble halved.

This proverb encourages us to share our problems in order to alleviate the stress they cause. I totally agree with this wisdom. It helps when we talk with close friends and family about problems we are experiencing.

The difficulty comes when we discuss issues, and problems about people, we may or may not know, and who aren’t actually participating in the conversation. When this happens, we may have taken a step into the Gossip Zone.

The Cambridge dictionary defines gossip as "conversation or reports about other people's private lives that might be unkind, disapproving, or not true."

Research both supports, and condemns gossip. Some studies claim that gossip strengthens ties in social and business networks, while other research suggests it harms relationships.

I believe that although you can while away many hours gossiping, it isn’t a happiness boosting activity.

Participating in it might make you feel you are part of the group, or your ego may delight in believing that others are worse off, or lesser people than you are.

However, these reasons do not fit with the principles for creating a robustly, happy life.

There is a fine line between sharing information about another person, and gossip. I believe the difference lies in the intention behind the conversation.

If you are sharing information for a loving reason, and striving to pass along an unbiased version of the situation, then I wouldn’t consider your conversation gossip.

Passing along personal information about another person might help someone else from putting their size 12s into their mouth.

Sharing the fact that a friend has miscarried, might help others from constantly talking about babies, or how difficult their births were. Knowing that someone has just been left by their partner, may help you understand why they are behaving ‘out of character.’

If you and a colleague talk about a boss who is micromanaging you, and making your lives at work extremely difficult, that might not be gossip.

If your intention is to try and understand this person better, to find ways to deal with your difficult working conditions, or just to share the frustration you are feeling, you are probably not in the Gossip Zone.

However, if your intention is to share everything you know about your boss, regardless of who you heard it from, just so you can take delight from illustrating all the ways he is a jerk, you probably are gossiping.

When you gossip, your stories are often coloured by your opinions, and you put your own spin, or interpretation on the events. The facts of the situation become more difficult to discern.

I wish I could say that I have never gossiped about other people, but sadly that is not the case. I know how addictive this pastime can be, and the feelings of belonging that they provide.

However, now that I am more conscious of the principles of robust happiness, I try hard not to enter the Gossip Zone.

For anyone who isn’t sure what these principles for robust happiness are, they include:

  • Not judging other people, unless their actions directly affect you, or someone is in danger of getting hurt.
  • Concentrating on the positive, rather than the negative.
  • Giving other people the benefit of the doubt, rather than believing that they are deliberately selfish, unthinking, or nasty.
  • Not comparing yourself to other people, especially when the intention is to feel better about yourself- ‘At least I never did that.’
  • Accepting that everyone is on their own journey, and has their own lessons to learn.

What do you do when you have a friend, or family member who likes to gossip?

You can’t control the actions of others, so to believe it is your responsibility to change their gossiping ways is unrealistic, and not your place to do.

You can only make the choice for yourself, but if you find yourself entering the Gossip Zone here are a few strategies you can try.

  • Change the subject to something more positive/less gossipy.
  • Explain that you prefer not to talk about people you don’t know, or people who are not present to give their point of view.
  • Suggest alternative reasons why the person being discussed, acted the way they did.
  • Remind your companions that like the game of Gossip/Whispers, information can change drastically, as it is passed from one person to another.
  • Walk away; a quick trip to the bathroom can be a lifesaver at times like this.

Gossip can be alluring, but remember, awareness is the first step to transformation.

When you find yourself talking about other people, stop and ask yourself what your intention is.

If notice you are entering the Gossip Zone, step out of it, and surround yourself with vibrations that are more positive.

What is happening in other people’s lives, for the most part, is none of your business.

Did your mom tell you this?

Robustly happy people take responsibility for their own happiness.

This is a powerful statement, and not one that I was ever introduced to by my mother.

I don’t blame my parents for withholding this vital lesson from me, and I would like to state that I’m not here to mark Mother’s Day by sharing all the things I wish my mother had done differently.

My mom didn’t teach me that I was responsible for my own happiness because she had never been introduced to that principle either.

It’s not like I made a conscious decision to hand over the key to my happiness to someone else, I just copied the behaviour my mother modelled for me.

Without really considering who should make me happy, I grew up thinking that happiness came from a loving partner, the circumstances of my life, and by doing my best to be a good person.

That strategy may work for you; it worked for me for many years, but the happiness it provides is fragile. Remove your partner, or other relationships, throw in some daunting challenges, and you may find your feelings of well-being slipping away.

Your mom is one of the greatest influences you will ever have. Children learn by observing, and copying. Similarly, you are one of the greatest influences your children will ever have.

In the early years of life, many of us spend more time with our mothers than anyone else, so we are bound to start copying some of her behaviours, beliefs, and values.

In the book, Secrets of the Millionaire Mind, T. Harv Eker tells the story of a woman and a ham, that illustrates just how powerful the behaviours of our mothers are.

A woman bought a ham to cook for her family. When the time came to get it into the oven, she started by cutting off the ends.

Her husband was in the kitchen with her, observing her technique. Curious as to why she cut the ends off before cooking it, he questioned her. She thought about it for a minute, and then realized she didn’t have an answer.

She did it because her mom had always cut the ends off.

Intrigued, the woman decided to contact her mother. The resulting phone call was no help. The woman’s mother didn’t know why she cut the ends off either. She did it because that’s what her mom had always done.

It wasn’t until they talked to the woman’s grandmother, that the mystery was solved.

The pan that grandma owned was too small for most of the hams she bought. The only way she could get them to fit in, was to cut off the ends.

Each generation observed the action and copied it, even though they had no understanding of why.

Mother’s Day is a time to celebrate not only your mom, but all the maternal, and feminine influences you have observed and copied in your life. It is also a time to pause and think about the role of influence, and responsibility you have.

You don’t have to a mother to be involved in this responsibility, nor is it just your own children who may be observing, and copying your behaviours.

My parents have neighbours who are well into their 90s. They still live in their own home, and walk together most days. That is something I have observed, admired, and hope to copy when I am older.

Their behaviour has inspired me to take a more active interest in my health. I may be fine now, but how will I be in a few more decades?

I am blessed with a wonderful, long-living mom who I have always loved, and have a close bond with. She may not have modelled taking responsibility for her happiness, but she showed me how to love unconditionally.

Enjoy celebrating, and being celebrated this weekend, but remember, with influence comes great responsibility.

Are you modelling the beliefs, values, and behaviours that you want to see in others?

Are you modelling how to take responsibility for your own happiness?

It is never too late to start.

You're perfect!

I used to tell my students I was like Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way.

They would groan and laugh, but I wonder how many of them wished they really were practically perfect.

The idea of being perfect conjures images of sunshine, and rainbows. A perfect person, living a perfect life means nothing ever goes wrong, and you never make mistakes. 

I have a couple of comments about this vision.

First, being perfect isn’t all it is cracked up to be. Friends and family may wonder how I know that, as I am far from perfect. You don’t have to jump off the Empire State Building to know it isn’t a good idea.

Perfectionists pile pressure onto their shoulders. Nothing is ever good enough. It is hard to be happy when you are constantly criticizing your endeavours.

Second, life is designed to have ups and downs, good and bad times, so looking for a perfect life is unrealistic. The pressure you put on yourself to achieve this unattainable level, is more likely to limit your happiness than add to it.

Third, perfectionists often care more about appearing perfect than actually being perfect. It is a great example of the power of smoke and mirrors. You may tell me everything is perfect, I may look at you and imagine that everything is perfect, but that doesn’t mean it really is perfect.

In our culture, an emphasis is placed on achieving goals rather than learning, and growing. How many parents are more concerned with the grades their children bring home, than the skills and lessons they have learned? 

I am here to take back the mirrors, and unplug the smoke machine. If you want to be happier in your life, be proud of your mistakes, and own your less-than-perfect decisions.

You will learn far more from your mistakes than you will from the things you do right the first time. When you do something that needs to be corrected, or learned from, it interrupts your flow through life. 

Interrupters do just that: they grab your attention away from the thought pattern you are engaged in. Our minds are designed to pay more attention to these interruptions.

Working hard to achieve something you're proud of is vastly different than being driven to appear perfect. If you have done your best, and learned from the experience, you will have a surge of happiness. 

If you need to be seen as perfect, you are more likely to stick with activities you know you can do perfectly, rather than pushing yourself to try something more difficult.

It is only in challenging yourself that you will grow. Trying to be perfect means you are less likely to grow and learn new skills than your non-perfectionist counterpart.

Strive for progress rather than perfection. Recognize that by trying new, harder tasks, you will learn more, even if it means making mistakes. 

Learn that good enough has a place in the world. There are times when aiming for perfection is appropriate, but there are also occasions when your time and energy is better spent on another activity. 

No one is perfect, and those who strive to be are inviting unnecessary pressure and disappointment into their lives.

Instead, enjoy being perfectly imperfect.

More The Happiness Connection articles

About the Author

Reen Rose is an educator, speaker and author who specializes in positive psychology and success. She has been teaching children and adults for over three decades and is a passionate lifelong learner. 

Currently, Reen is helping schools create cultures that foster mental well-being, growth mindsets and robust happiness. She encourages teachers and parents to model this behaviour for their students and children. This is also a good strategy for business and community leaders.

Reen offers presentations and workshops that are a blend of research-based expertise, storytelling, humour and practical strategies.

Reen is a Myers Briggs certified practitioner, a Microsoft Office certified trainer and a qualified and experienced teacher.

Email Reen at [email protected]

Check out her website at www.ReenRose.com

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

Previous Stories