One morning this week it was lashing rain, and I decided to drive the kids to school. It’s that time of year when I find there is so much going on, and its hard to keep up – so we were all tired and a bit cranky from a camping trip. As we were waiting for my sons school to open, he was flicking through the radio channels in the car, I caught something about how many people in Ireland are happy and content about where they live, and it mentioned that it was surprisingly high. He had changed the channel before I heard any more and by the time I got back to it, it was over. So I came home and googled it to try find out more.
I am fascinated by happiness and intrigued how it’s measured… the happiness surveys and the rating that different countries get always get my attention. Finland has won for the last 2 years and the Nordic countries in general score very well. I did a 2-part blog a couple of years ago about a couple of books I’d read – the Danes and Dutch both claiming to be raising the happiest children in the world. I summarized the main points of both books (which were really interesting and yes they can teach us a thing or two). Some of the main point were about how much play and outdoor time is encouraged, as is independence and cycling, there is less focus on material things (second hand clothes were the norm), also they are the opposite of the helicopter parents hovering over their kids – they stand back and allow them to learn for themselves and trust them. There was much more to it, as you can imagine.. so if you’re interested you can read them here (part 1) and here (part 2).
So how do we fare in the happiness stakes? And how can we help our kids to feel happier?
Here in Ireland we ranked 16th this year (2019) we were 14th last year, the UK have come in ahead of us even with Brexit going on. That’s all fine, it’s just a survey afterall, its taken from a certain group of people over 3 years, these people may or may not represent our own personal beliefs and actions… but I still wanted to know more like what are the ranking based on?
Countries’ happiness scores are determined by six main variables on a three-year average:
- GDP per capita
- Healthy life expectancy at birth
- Social support from friends and family
- Freedom to make life choices
- Generosity in the form of donations to charity
- Perceptions of government corruption
(Taken from an article in the Irish Central Website.) There are some of these factors that we can influence in our kids, specifically numbers 3, 4 and 5.
Social support from friends and family
Firstly, social skills for our children and teens is so important. I work with kids all the time (both coaching and in our summer camps) helping them with simple social skills such as:
- How to make a new friend – smile, say hi, and start talking..
- Be a good friend – improve the friendships you already have, invite people over, spend time with them, open up to them & most importantly listen!
- How to cope when you walk into a room when you don’t know anyone. Take a deep breath – tell yourself something positive and repeat no1.
- Learning to befriend the right people is also a very important social skill. And stay away from the people who don’t treat you well.
I think these simple lessons are underrated and a lot of kids benefit from them.
Secondly, learning the above skills allows you to have people around you to help you through the ups and downs of life. The only way to have a strong support network of friends and family, is give and take. If we are there for others and listen to them, help them when they need us, then they will usually, be there when we need to open up and share our problems – this is going to lead to a strong social support group. As with everything kids model their parents.
Freedom to make life choices
This is an interesting one because I often coach teens and young adults about life choices, and it all goes back to being true to yourself, following your intuition or as I like to call it listening to your deep down inside voice. We can help our kids tune into this early on, and provide a warm, supportive, loving environment where they get to make their own decisions and realize life is not about pleasing others, (including your parents).
- Practice loving your kids and teens unconditionally
- Accept that they are going to make mistakes and its all part of learning
- Allow your children to make some decisions themselves and to express themselves, and so what if it’s not the norm.
- Talk through our own choices- what has made you chose certain paths
- Keep an open mind in general and help your child to explore things they are interested in
- Being true to yourself is knowing what you need to do and following through. Usually it is because it feels like its the right thing to do, and we just couldn’t live with ourselves if we didn’t do it.
- Being practical and realistic is also important – but isn’t there enough of that in the adult world.
Generosity in the form of donations to charity
I have a few questions about this – how does giving money to charity make you happy? What about people who don’t have much disposable income? (are they automatically less happy?) And how do we bring up kind generous kids who are altruistic and want to help others.
Since they copy us and model our behavior:
- Tell your children about any donations or volunteering that you do or have done in your life, and the reasons why.
- Be sure to communicate that it isn’t about the amount of money or time you give (or gave to something), it’s about the gesture, the thought for others, or being part of the community.
- Discussing how grateful we are for what we have, and teaching kids gratitude, I believe allows us to somewhat neutralize the effect of our kids getting so much.
My own parents were always getting involved in the community in some way or other, they were both on various committees at different stages. My Dad also set up a charity after watching Live Aid in the eighties. I saw it as the normal thing to do, to get involved, to help out.
I’ve looked into getting my kids more involved in charity work and giving to others. This year, I think we will focus on the shoe box appeal as they’re still very young. I’ve looked at volunteering holidays and your kids have to be teenagers but what a life experience that would be!
Thanks for reading and please sign up to keep in touch with all that we are doing at The Confidence Clinic.