Is this the secret to happiness?

20 August 2018

Is this the secret to happiness?

  • Wellbeing
by Dr Jodi Richardson

Every parent wants their children and teenagers to be happy. This idea of contentment seems to be a driving force for many parents we meet. It certainly holds true for a lot of people. Of course, it’s difficult to achieve. But recently there was an event that occurred in Jodie Richardson’s backyard that may well have revealed the secret to our contentment and happiness, and that of our children.

The strongest finding in positive psychology is that our relationships with other people have the greatest impact on our happiness and mental health. This principle is true for children and teenagers as well as adults.

My family had introduced two new chickens to our existing flock at home. There’s always a bit of pecking by the other chickens to put the newbies in their place, but this time they went too far. So we separated the new pair from the others.

When night fell we expected them to follow the other chooks into the coop, but they stayed outside, worried for their safety. They took turns to sit on each other to stay warm. It was hard to watch as they looked so vulnerable. So we lifted them into the coup and locked the doors to keep them safe, and all was quiet. I felt sad for their loneliness and exclusion, and how they clung to each other desperately for comfort and protection.

It reminded me of a story shared by Martin Seligman, the father of the Positive Psychology movement. Seligman told of how a village in the Portuguese mountains owned a solitary ox to plough the fields. It would invariably live for 40 years and then, upon its death, it would be replaced by a young ox. It’s fate too was to endure four decades of loneliness and solitude. As Seligman says, “There is very little positive about a solitary existence.”

Humans are wired for connection

The sadness these stories evoke come from our core need for connection. It pains us when we see loneliness, even in another species.

The strongest finding in positive psychology is that our relationships with other people have the greatest impact on our happiness and mental health. This principle is true for children and teenagers as well as adults.

Our kids need lots and lots of friends and close connections with their family. However, friendships aren’t always easy for kids. There are some who are filled with confidence and thrive in the company of friends, family and even strangers. But for others, forming and keeping friendships is much harder. These kids need adult assistance in the form of teaching (young children), coaching (children and young teenagers) and mentoring (late adolescents).

Friendship skills can be learned

Connecting with another person is a skill. There’s a lot we can teach them to support their confidence and ability to make and keep friends.

Toddlers need our help to connect from the very start. We can help by providing them with social scripts, including how to introduce themselves, how to enter a group and how to voice disagreements.

As kids get older, they can work on eye contact, sharing, listening skills, the need to compromise, how to hold conversations and how to show pleasure at a friend’s achievements. There’s a lot to teach and a great deal to model.

As for the two solitary chickens, we kept putting them back in the coop each night. On the fifth night they felt comfortable enough to enter the coop on their own.

This is a reminder that it takes time for some children and young people to form meaningful connections and friendships with others. If they, with our support and coaching, stick with it, eventually kids will form those connections that are so important for their happiness, mental health and well-being.

It takes a village to raise kids. Join me and hundreds of other parents working together to raise kids who flourish. Subscribe at drjodirichardson.com.au/contact

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Dr Jodi Richardson

Jodi is a happiness and wellbeing speaker and writer, and is mum to two primary school aged kids who light her up. For more great ideas on flourishing mental health for the whole family, subscribe to her newsletter at drjodirichardson.com.au and say hello on facebook.com/DrJodiRichardson. Enquiries to jodi@drjodirichardson.com.au