How Parents Can Make Their Kids Experts in Happiness

Is your kid's happiness short lived or long lasting?

Posted Sep 11, 2016

Admit it, you love to see your kid happy; your home is filled with smiling photos grinning from your computer screen, book shelves, even your refrigerator door.

Everyone wants to raise a happy child. But when it comes to raising children, are all forms of happiness equal? What kind of happiness should you shoot for?

Starting with the Self

Before we begin, I am going to tell you something you may not want to hear that I included in my book When Kids Call the Shots. I’ve been fired by parents because of this personal viewpoint so if you’re fainthearted, skip this section and go on to the next.  For those of you who have stuck with me this far, here it is:

No therapist is going to completely “cure” your child. No amount of medication, bio-feedback, cognitive-behavior therapy, psychological testing, solution-focused, short-term therapy or long-term psychoanalysis will truly help your kid in the end unless you take full responsibility for your own behavior: i.e. your moods, motives, relationships, your feelings about yourself, your partner, your job, and most importantly, your way of being in the home and in the world.

A parent’s first and most important job is to demonstrate to their children how to live a fulfilling and happy life. It doesn’t matter if a single parent, same-sex parents or adoptive parents raise a child. I’ve seen trust fund kids raised in wealthy homes who have everything–yet they are horribly depressed. And I’ve also worked with children who have very little material wealth yet experience far more joy in life. True and lasting happiness is not based on externals; it’s generated from within.

Here’s where you come in. Parents pass along to their children a blueprint for how to live life; no life lesson lecture, order or directive is more powerful than your own behavior. Your child absorbs your life-state, your happiness or unhappiness, every day; it shapes his or her very way of being. No one can match your influence, especially during those crucial early years.

Relative vs. Absolute Happiness

Now to the question of the kind of happiness you want to foster in your home. There’s a wonderful Buddhist concept of happiness that I’d like to share with you. It divides happiness into two camps: relative and absolute.

Relative Happiness

Relative happiness is a kind of happiness that usually involves getting stuff or going places. It can be high-octane experience that gets your heart pumping: an amusement park, a birthday party, a gift, eating your favorite food—all these special moments that are bursting with happiness.

If you’re looking for instant gradification, relative happiness is for you. The difficulty with relative happiness is that it fades quickly. No matter how awesome it feels, it starts to diminish from the moment it is over. This is because relative happiness is a dependent form of happiness; it depends largely on things outside yourself. Take away those things and the happiness goes with it.

Of course, we all want to have fun with our kids, and relative happiness can supply plenty of that. The difficulty is that when our children’s lives become too focused on relative happiness, lasting happiness remains elusive. Any fulfillment they receive from relative happiness expires quickly and is replaced with a ferocious hunger for more. Over time they grow unsatisfied and belligerent, even bullying. When this happens, parents find themselves trapped in an endless cycle of supply and demand; an exhausting undertaking that undermines everyone’s happiness.

Absolute Happiness

Absolute happiness is the kind of happiness that isn’t dependent on others, objects or things.  It doesn’t fade with time. It isn’t discarded after the batteries run out. It comes from a deeper sense of purpose, pride, identity, and satisfaction with oneself.

A high score on a exam, a home run in a decisive baseball game, a successful piano recital, a well-written essay, a painting, a report card full of A’s. No one can take away the happiness that comes with these achievements; that’s why it’s absolute, it stays with us forever. We recall these prideful moments well beyond our childhood. They provide us with nourishment that lifts us up when we are down and fortifies us when we feel deadlocked.

Children who experience this kind of happiness are much better equipped to handle life’s challenges. They are less dependent and more self-motivated because their happiness isn’t dependent on others; it springs from personal triumphs. Parents who cultivate absolute happiness in their children’s lives pass along creativity, energy, and passion. Their children are rarely imprisoned behind computers or phone screens, or sapped by the trappings of social media. They’ve learn to seek fulfillment that comes from more enriching activities.

A Balance Approach

Which kind of happiness is the best for your kid? The truth is, your kid needs both. Relative happiness, though short-lived, is just too much darn fun to ignore! Birthday presents, water parks, family outings; some of our kid’s best memories are tied to holidays and celebrations. By the same token, you can’t deny the long-term benefits that absolute happiness brings in developing your kid’s unique talents and strengths

A balanced approach to relative and absolute happiness is your best bet –- for you and your child. It’s a universal truth that every parent wants a happy child, and every child wants a happy parent. Cultivating happiness in your family is more than just good parenting; it provides you and your kid with memories you will cherish for a lifetime. 

To schedule a Parenting Workshop or order your copy of Sean's book WHEN KIDS CALL THE SHOTS: How to Seize Control from Your Darling Bully -- and Enjoy Being a Parent Again visit