"If I could wish for one thing in my life, it would be that my children grow up happy," says Diane, a mother of two girls, ages 6 and 2. Diane is not alone. A research study conducted in 67 countries interviewed parents from diverse cultures, faiths and income levels about what they most wished for their children. The number one answer, by a long shot, was happiness. Every parent wants his or her child to be happy. If you are a parent, you know how true this is. Unconditional love is only interested in happiness.

In my happiness course, Be Happy, I give my participants a test called The Happiness Genie for Kids. The idea is that a genie appears in your life and offers you a series of wishes you can make on your children's behalf. Each wish is a forced choice. For example, "I wish my child has wealth or happiness." In the last course, 100 percent of parents chose happiness over wealth; 95 percent chose happiness over academic excellence; 95 percent chose happiness over fame; and 90 percent chose happiness over success.

We know what we want for our children, but how do we do it? Well, first it's important to understand that you cannot make your children happy. That said, there is plenty you can do to encourage them to be happy. The distinction between making and encouraging is a vital one. Parents who believe they can make their children happy are prone to making other mistakes like trying too hard to be a good parent, intervening too much, being overcontrolling and believing they always know what's best for their children.

In adult-to-adult relationships, when a person makes it their mission to make their partner or friend happy, they usually end up disappointed, in unhealthy sacrifice and in a role (full-time employment, more like) as a helper. Similarly, if you believe it is your partner/friend's job to make you happy, you will also be disappointed. What's true for adult-to-adult relationships is also true for parent-child relationships. True happiness isn't something you manufacture for others; it exists in their spiritual DNA already. What you can do is offer encouragement to help bring their happiness out.

Practically everything we do as parents is motivated by a desire to see our children be happy. The good news is that there is much you can do to encourage them to discover true happiness for themselves. Every day, in each moment, you can offer essential encouragement through your loving presence, your own example and your steadfast support. As you encourage your children to be happy, you may notice that something else happens, which is that you become happier too.

5 keys to your child's happiness


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