Happiness, unfortunately, is one of those things you can't approach head-on. You can't, after all, will yourself to be happy. It's a by-product of that certain mix of attitudes, behaviors, and support. Get it right and happiness suddenly shows up at your front door.
And if your own happiness feels elusive at times, the challenge increases exponentially when you wish the same for your own kids. Try as you might, you ultimately have no direct control over your children's happiness. The best you can do as a parent is learn to work around their temperaments, help move the obstacles to their happiness out of their way, and create the environment that can allow it to grow.
Here are some strategies for helping your kids discover their path to happiness:
Help them trust the world. You've met them -- the folks who are always looking over their shoulders, always waiting for the other shoe to drop, always suspicious of others. Such a stance is understandably self-protective, but it absolutely kills joy by preventing you from leaning into life. If you're always on-guard, if you assume that the world is basically a scary place and others are not to be trusted, then happiness becomes at best a momentary shrug and nothing more.
So help your kids to open up and trust. Sure, you don't want them to be naïve. Yes, they do need to know how to size up situations, use common sense, make realistic choices. But you also don't want them to walk through life like a turtle. When you see your kids holding back, teach them to relax and encourage them to move forward. When they feel they have to go it alone, help them to reach out to others and ask for help. When they are inclined to paint the world as frightening or gray, point out to them the good and the bright.
Help them be kind to themselves. Your 8-year-old is kicking herself (no pun intended) for missing that soccer goal; your teenage son has been walking around the house calling himself stupid for the last hour because he got shot down (again) by some girl that he's asked out. Not good. Always giving yourself a hard time -- because your standards are way too high, because you falsely believe that you should be able to control things that you cannot (the reactions of others, the effect of wind speed on soccer balls) -- leaves you perpetually in the psychological doghouse. Life, you wind up telling yourself, is crummy largely because of you.
You need to help your kids realize that this is not a good way to treat yourself. You can do this by 1) being good to yourself and 2) being great to them. The way you handle your rejections and disappointments invariably becomes a model for them -- show them how to keep things in perspective and bounce back.
Be great to them by remembering the 4:1 rule -- 4 positive statements for every negative one -- anything less and what your kids will ultimately hear from you is criticism. Ramp up your positive impact by making your feedback specific. Don't just say "Good job on the science project" say instead, "I really like the way you chose the colors for the different planets, and how you kept working on it even when you were getting frustrated." Research shows that those detailed comments are the ones that are more apt to be heard and taken in.
Help them learn how to solve problems. Problems in life are always a downer, but only if they go unsolved. Kids need to learn that complaining has limited value and does nothing to get problems out of the way; that whining and expecting others to bail you out leaves you spending a good deal of your life waiting for someone to do exactly that.
Action is the key here. Do something. Most problems are not about you (the flat tire), and even if they partially are (the rejections, the soccer goal), figuring out what the problem is trying to teach you, helps put them to rest. Actually once you figure out the lesson to be learned, you're done. The problem, you'll find, stays away.
Help them learn not to take things personally. We live in such a me-centered world and brain that it's easy to think that everything is about us. Sorry, it's not. The flat tire, the bad weather, even the rejection from the gal is less about you and more about others and forces of the universe. This ties into the first strategy -- the idea that most people are doing their best and aren't out to make your life miserable. Teach your kids, by your own modeling, how to take things in stride -- skip the tale of woe, take action, move on. Again, help them realize the limits of their own power, namely, never about others but only over their own behaviors, feelings, and thoughts.
Help them learn to take risks and follow their dreams. Here's where the music swells and the Mother Superior from the Sound of Music belts out Climb Every Mountain. But the nun is right -- risks and dreams are essential to happiness. By taking risks kids learn to be less afraid of taking risks. They learn to adapt and find that the anxiety they feel is part and parcel of taking on a challenge, and through such challenges they develop self confidence. With this as a base, it's not only easier to dream, but to believe that your dreams; rather than something intimidating or ridiculous, they become reachable.
What underlies these strategies are positive expectations -- about others and yourself, and self-empowerment -- the belief that you can shape and change your life.
Try adapting these to your own life, and the rest of the work with your kids will probably be a lot easier.