What Does It Mean To Be Successful?
The Pursuit of Happiness
Quick! What are the first three things that pop to mind when you ask “What does it mean to be successful?”
Was one of them “being happy?” If you’re like most people, the first things to surface were probably:
- Plenty of money
- Nice house
- Fancy car
- Comfortable life
Maybe you thought about:
- A career I love
- A healthy family
- Kids who grow up to be good people
- A strong community around you
But did your own happiness figure into it?
Being happy is a really important part of what it means to be successful. You can have all of the outer trappings of success, but if you aren’t happy in those things are you really successful?
As parents, we talk to our kids a lot about what they need to be successful:
- Good grades
- Hard work
- A solid career path
- Goals and a plan
- Strong bodies
- Sharp minds
But how often do we help them build the tools that they will need to be HAPPY in the life that they build?
Being happy is about:
- Finding and maintaining balance
- Human connection
- Connection with the natural world
- Growing in gratitude
- Cultivating acts of kindness
We could argue that if a person isn’t happy, they aren’t successful. After all, what’s the point of being successful? To enjoy your life and leave the world a better place. Happiness is integral to that.
How Do We Help Kids Cultivate Their Own Happiness?
By educating the whole child instead of just the intellectual being. This is why an Integrated Education is so important.
Here are some ways you might help your kids build the skills they need to be happy:
Finding and Maintaining Balance
Sometimes it feels like we live in a world of extremes where balance is elusive and the voices around us clamor for our “all in” attention. Every person struggles with finding balance, even (especially?) kids.
The ability to find balance requires us to look at the big picture of who we are, where we are at in the world, and where we are going. We’ve all heard the saying, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” but all play and no work might mean Jack doesn’t develop the grit he needs to do hard things.
Talk with your kids about the balance we all need in life over the long haul and in one given day. There will be seasons of flat out hard work, and seasons where we rest and reap the rewards. There will be times when we are all in learning something new, and other times when we might not actively seek knowledge at all. Modeling this for your kids by talking out loud about your process and sharing with them the complexities of finding and maintaining balance is a good start.
Try this: Talk with your kids about their perfectly balanced day, with building happiness in mind. What does that day look like? Share with them your ideas too!
People need other people to be happy. We know this. Building human connection intentionally to support your happiness is a key skill to develop. We need to build the right kinds of relationships with the right kinds of people to support our success and our happiness.
Try this: Ask your kids who the people are in their lives that make them happiest. What is it about each person that brings joy? Are there any patterns? Help your kids see the bigger picture about the kinds of people they might seek out and surround themselves with if they are intentionally building their own happiness.
Connection With the Natural World
Studies have shown that the Japanese practice of forest bathing reduces cortisol, the stress hormone, lowers blood pressure, and is sometimes prescribed to reduce depression and improve mental health. We just feel better when we get outside in nature, soak up some sunshine, and connect with the natural world.
How do we get kids to recognize their need to connect to the natural world and self-medicate with some outside time when they feel their mental or physical health flagging? We all know that more is caught than taught, so we’ve got to get out there ourselves. Do your kids see you connecting with nature?
Try this: Build a consistent block of outside time into your day, or week and go together. A family walk, hiking, bicycle rides, gardening, baseball at the park, or just tossing a frisbee in the backyard for 30 minutes can completely change the emotional state of the day.
Growing in Gratitude
Self check: Do your kids hear more complaining, or more gratitude from the adults in their world? Gratitude helps focus our awareness on the good things. Focusing on the positive things also makes us happier. Gratitude (or lack thereof) can become a habit. Make sure your kids are flexing that muscle often.
Try this: Start every day with an “I’m thankful for… “ statement around the breakfast table. Or, spend a month writing down something every day that you are thankful for and dropping the slip of paper into the jar. At the end of the month, read them aloud over dinner.
Cultivating Acts of Kindness
When we behave kindly, it feels good. Acts of kindness make two people happy: the giver, and the receiver. Sometimes, the best way to amp your own happiness is to make someone else happy. Help your kids to start measuring part of their success in how many people they bring joy to in a day and how much kindness they spread through the world.
Try this: Spend a whole day in Kindness Ninja mode. See how many people you can surprise with random acts of kindness. At the end of the day talk about what you’ve learned!