An author who is writing a book about happiness interviewed me recently. During our conversation, he asked me, "Generally speaking, how would you teach a child to be happy?" I started to say a few words, but quickly realized I didn't have a proper answer. The next day, having thought it through, I e-mailed him this response: "I wouldn't teach them anything; I'd let them teach me." One of the greatest gifts we can give children is our 100 percent trust that they will work out how to be happy. Happiness is natural to children, and the best thing we can do is not get in the way too much.
Children are great teachers. Being a parent is a chance for us to grow up and become the person we were born to be. Being a parent is also a chance for us to remember to be young again, innocent, playful and full of wonder. Most mornings, I am woken up by Bo, my gorgeous 2 3/4-year-old daughter, who is always fizzing with energy. "Daddy, it's the day!" she says. "Let's have some fun." What a wonderful invitation. Often the sun has yet to come up, but how can I resist? Like my daughter, I too learn by example—and my daughter is a great teacher of happiness to me.
Expressing "I Love You"
One of the most common causes of unhappiness in adults is an unhappy childhood. What makes a childhood unhappy can vary enormously. That said, a common story I hear in my workshops and one-to-one sessions is from adults like Judy, who says: "My parents worked hard to pay the rent, to put food on the table and to clothe us properly. They took care of our physical needs, but I didn't feel met emotionally by them." Judy doesn't mean to sound ungrateful; she is simply acknowledging that young children are hungry for love.
Parenting is about love in action. As a parent, you know deep down that everything you do for your children, you do for love. That you love your children is not in question. That said, a good question to ask yourself is, "How can I love my children today?" Put another way, "How can I express my love so that he/she feels loved?" Remembering to say "I love you" is a great start, and after that you can set about discovering a thousand more ways to say "I love you" without using the words. Always communicate your love, both with and without words. Why? Because love is the most fun you can have with anyone. And because in the final analysis, to love is to be happy.
Robert Holden, PhD, and his innovative work on happiness and well-being have been featured on The Oprah Show and Good Morning America and also in two major BBC TV documentaries, The Happiness Formula and How to Be Happy, shown to more than 30 million TV viewers worldwide. He is the author of the best-selling books Happiness NOW!, Shift Happens! and Success Intelligence. His latest book, Be Happy, is published by Hay House. Robert lives in London with his wife and daughter. For more information, visit RobertHolden.org and BeHappy.net.