What makes you happy, – do you know? For most us discovering what brings us joy, as well as what builds our self-esteem, is a lifelong process. There is, of course, always more to learn about ourselves.
But happiness, as the saying goes, is an inside job. Many of us are well into adulthood before we accept the fact that our happiness is our own responsibility, –and no one else's. For example, if I'm in a low-paying job, or in a relationship with a person who consistently puts me down, I could complain about my miserly boss or my critical boyfriend, –or I could take responsibility for being in those situations. I could work on trying to assert myself appropriately and negotiate for what I want. If my requests are not honored, then it is I who needs to take responsibility for finding other employment and new relationships.
Sounds neat and logical but, for most of us, it is not easy stuff to learn. So imagine if, at the tender age of 10 or 12, you had the opportunity to be part of a structured system designed to teach you the art of creating a happy life. Actually, make that the science of creating a happy life. The Girl Scouts of the USA has created a new badge designed to provide just this experience. Called the "Science of Happiness" badge, this merit badge is the brainchild of psychologist Martin Seligman who has conducted extensive research on reducing depression and anxiety in adolescents.
After puberty there is a sizeable increase in depression but research shows significant reductions in depression and anxiety in children who learn who learn these skills. Self-esteem and self-empowerment are cultured in advance of the stressors of adolescence, giving girls a leg up against the possibility of teenage depression.
You can help your daughters, –and your sons, too, for that matter, by teaching them these essential skills. Scientific research demonstrates that being happy is something people can learn to do. It is not simply a state caused by external circumstances. Teach you kids this concept: That they can do things to create happiness for themselves.
So here goes. Let's run through an example to make each step clear.
Your 10-year-old daughter has been after you and your husband to get her a puppy. Your husband and you are both thinking that you'd like to get a dog, but had been waiting until your daughter was older and could be more responsible for her pet. Your daughter, of course, promises you the moon; she will walk the dog in the rain, sleet and snow. You know full well, however, that you will be the one who is extremely responsible. Of course, you could just get her a puppy, and then she'd be happy, right? She might, but she'd be happy because of something you did, not something she herself did. This is a great opportunity to teach your daughter to learn what she can do to help herself. She can learn to be responsible before getting the dog; moreover, she will learn that her responsible behavior will get her what she wants!
Step 1. Define the problem. Sit down with your child and and a large pad of paper. Define the problem in objective terms that are clear to both you and your child. In this case, your daughter writes: "I want a puppy but Mom and Dad will not let me get one!"
Step 2. Reframe the problem into one that can be tackled by the child's efforts. In this case, you could help your daughter to revise it to read: "I want a dog and there are things I have to do in order to get one." This is great! She's on her way.
Step 3. Jointly create a list of activities with your daughter that she can do to reach her goal. In this case, you and your daughter may create a chart on a calender with responsibilities that she can take to prove she is ready for the responsibility of a pet. You and your daughter will make marks on the calender at the end of each day, to note her accomplishments. For example, let's say that each day for the next four weeks, your daughter will:
* make her bed in the morning;
* get all her homework done by 8 pm and show it to you;
And, once a week for the next four weeks she will read an article or book with you about caring for a dog. At the end of four weeks, she will create a final project such as a poster on what she has learned about dog care, and a list of things she herself will do for the dog.
(As you develop the activities in Step 3, make sure each task is one your child is capable of!)
4. Highlight and affirm your child daily for her efforts. When you check off her activity on the chart, make a point to offer verbal praise along with it. Say, for example, "Honey, you did a great job making your bed today! I did not even have to remind you! If your child fails to complete her responsibilities, keep your tone neutral and matter-of-fact. , "Tomorrow is another chance to get it right. You can still earn what you want. It will just take a little longer. "
5. Once your child has completed her set number of days or weeks of her responsibilities, be sure to let her know she earned the reward because of her own efforts. In this case, once you have gotten the dog, you might put a picture of your daughter and her puppy up on the refrigerator next to her completed chart and write, "Congratulations, you did it!"
Going forward, keep these steps in mind. A similar project can be set up to help your daughter with ongoing responsibilities for her pet. There is no limit to the application of these steps. Apparent problems are opportunities for teaching happiness in disguise.