Happiness – nature or nurture?
Do we need to teach our children happiness?
What a great question posed by one of my Happiness Heroes from my Facebook Group – Wake up to Happiness last week, after her two year old daughter asked her, ‘Are you happy mummy?’ And this got me reflecting on whether we need to teach how to be happy or is it something that is known deep within each soul?
My instincts tell me that for us today, as adults, happiness is a state that the commercial world has cornered as a marketing tool, a bit like success was packaged back in the 1980/90s. It became a resource to sell, promote and make money from. I have a feeling that happiness is the latest craze to hit that commercial train and I think we need to get back to basics before we get lured into the happiness growth sector. Perhaps an interesting comment as I am in that very same market as a happiness coach.
The natural art of happiness has been, I think lost in translation somewhere along the line. We’re so stressed in today’s crazy, modern world that we see happiness as something that has to be obtained as a result of doing something else – i.e happiness is a destination and not the journey. And with this culture, I think for many of us the true nature of happiness must be retaught. We need to wake up to what happiness really is; not the car, the house, the job or the holiday. Re-learning how we find authentic happiness within us, as a state of mind, a set of values and a set of choices, is most certainly necessary these days. We have become too distracted by the materialist vulgarity of life, comforted by the motivation that ‘When X has happened or I have Y, then I’ll be happy.’
So that’s the adult population – most definitely a need to relearn and become more aware. Although let’s come back to children and the prompt for this blog. Do they need to be taught or is there something instinctive within them that gets lost as they grow up? This brings us to such an interesting question around nature or nurture.
When I search my soul for the answer, it says that we are born with the knowledge of how to be happy, because the rules are very simple. It’s only life and ego that complicates our happiness choices. The rules are about loving yourself, being kind, grateful, enjoying the simple pleasures of life and being in the moment. This is something as babies and young children that we instinctively know how to do. We are born with an instinct for smiling, for laughing at the smallest of things and gaining pleasure from the simplicity of life. Do you remember trying to make perfume from the blossom or building a den in the woods with twigs and ferns? That simplicity; that unquestioned natural instinct is within us – it’s not taught. It is not until the ego develops and the brain’s sophistication evolves that happiness is questioned, challenged and our conditioned patterns get in the way of what was natural for us as infants.
Let’s face it, as youngsters with our sponge-like brains, we soak up what surrounds us. We watch and learn from the people and events around us and we start to get a new set of rules about how to BE and what to DO based on those experiences. So life teaches us a new dimension that can be so often a world apart from the rules we came into this life with. And at that age we don’t have the ability to challenge and question intellectually, we just take on those new rules trustingly.
So what’s the answer? Is happiness something we need to teach our children? I think the answer is, on reflection both yes and no. I think our responsibility as parents, role-models and teachers is to encourage the natural happiness resource that children are born with, to nurture those simple happiness rules that they live by in their early years. Embrace and encourage their imagination, their creativity and their playfulness. An approach that the Education System needs to seriously take heed of – although that’s a whole different discussion for another day.
I think we also then need to show and honour the fundamental rules of happiness about loving yourself, being in the moment, being grateful, respectful, kind and compassionate. Without these cornerstones of happiness then we run the risk that children will also get distracted by life’s measurement and judgemental rules and get sucked into the commercial beast that promotes the happiness and success brand. So we must set good examples within the heart and home about how happiness really is and encourage their innate ability to find happiness in life’s simplicity, before the survival instinct of the ego takes hold. Give them the authentic cornerstones that make for a happy and simple life and create a space where their natural happiness genes can thrive.
Therefore happiness is both known instinctively and must be nurtured for us to truly tread the authentic path. These will then help create a happiness legacy that must win the battle over our modern world of chaos. We have a social responsibility for ourselves and to our future generations to create a world where happiness is the rule and not the exception. We must nurture what is natural by what we do, what we say and how we feel in our hearts. It’s up to us to help shape a life where happiness is chosen over hatred and anger.
May we all be well and happy. Karen x