[Published by MomClick Utah and The Daily Herald here]
Giving — “To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with.” -Mark Twain
I have a friend whose parents took this advice to heart. When my friend was a child, his parents began a family tradition of dropping food, special treats, gifts and even money to families they believed needed it. They did it anonymously. Many families enjoy this activity around Christmas time.
The peculiarity about his family was that they began this tradition when they were experiencing their own financial hardships. My friend remembers his father telling him: “Someone else will always have less than you; find that person and share.” He said that one year his family had actually been the recipients of anonymous gifts. They decided they still would share with others who had less than they did. What he remembers the most was the joy he and his siblings experienced as they knocked on doors and ran away to ensure they were not discovered.
Every parent can find their own way to share the joy of giving with their children. The key is to serve and give throughout the whole year, even when you don’t have a lot. We don’t need to have abundance in order to give and serve. If our children can internalize that mindset, they can find true joy.
Arthur C. Brooks, a professor of business and government policy and president of the American Enterprise Institute, conducted a research project focused on economics, entrepreneurship and philanthropy. In 2009, he spoke to the school of business at BYU about his findings. He explained how charity brings happiness, and happiness brings success. He said that people who donate to charity will generally be happier than those who don’t. People who give experience lower levels of stress, better overall health, are better citizens, and so on.
He said there is a myth that giving is a luxury. Rather, he went on to say, it is a necessity. If we want to be better people, we have to give. Toward the end of his speech, he said, “I promise, it really works. Either because of God in Heaven — or because of our neurochemistry. But it really works!”
Indeed, we have a magnificent brain and when we give, we benefit in myriad ways.
Attitude — “We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.” — Abraham Lincoln
Have you met people who always seem cheerful and generous? When there is a need to serve, donate time or money, they don’t hesitate. They seem to be problem-free and happy-go-lucky. As you become better acquainted with them, though, you find out about their life challenges — for example, a terminal illness or an ill child. Yet, they seem so positive and willing to serve unselfishly. How do they do it? It’s their attitude, isn’t it? Happiness is a state of being and mind.
You decide how to react to life, and your children are watching. Are you an optimist or a pessimist? What about your children?
Studies regarding positivity show that when we have a positive attitude, we enhance our inner strengths and resources.
When our children experience illnesses, injuries, or losses, it’s important to show our support and empathy. We can also teach them to reframe their response to struggles. We can help them find small moments of joy among painful and troubling experiences.
When life gives us lemons, we can make lemonade. Teach your children what this means so they can have that attitude as they get older.
Empathy — “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” — John Watson
Studies say that we need to understand our own feelings before we can show empathy toward others. We need to understand other people’s perspective and be able to regulate our emotions. We can teach our children to recognize their feelings and accept them. This means they need to understand that all feelings are normal and to not feel ashamed of them.
Sometimes I meet children and adults who think feeling angry is not OK. I remind them that all of our feelings are a natural part of life — including anger. It is what we do with our feelings that matters. Our children need to know that they can count on us for support and guidance when their feelings get out of control. And remember, it all begins with our example.
Help them develop the ability to distinguish how other people feel. Regular events and routines can help you teach this concept. When you are at the park, store or library, invite them to notice how other children may be feeling. If they notice a child who is sad, ask them what they could do to comfort that child. As your children come up with their own ideas, you also will know what their needs are when they are in similar situations.
Be still — “Seek not outside yourself, heaven is within.” — Mary Lou Cook
Do you remember the last time you felt true joy? What was happening? Most likely you found peace and joy while being still. Your children can, too. Here is a suggestion:
When your children are enjoying a soothing activity, help them to literally become aware of their experience through their senses. Later on, when they need quiet moments, suggest that they close their eyes, and remember that placid time they experienced previously. Tell them it’s like a video of themselves replaying in their minds. Ask them to tell you what they see, hear, smell and sense on their skin as they replay the video. If they had a tasty drink or treat, ask them to describe it to you. Let them sit still with their memory for a few minutes.
You can also give it a try! The goal is to give yourself a break from the constant chatter in your mind. Anybody who has extra worries can benefit.
Like everything else, the more you practice, the better you’ll get at being still.
Every parent wants their children to be happy. Be aware of opportunities that will help them notice precious drops of joy each day. Do everything you can to set the example and encourage them to discover joy.
If you look carefully and quietly — you’ll find it everywhere — and will make life more rewarding for you and your children.