daughterIf asked the question “Above anything else, what do you truly want for your children?” many parents would answer “For them to be healthy and happy.” It’s a wonderful way to expose the basic hope that children will grow into adults that are healthy and happy, something that we also want for ourselves but we know not everyone has.

Our contemporary American culture sends a message that we will achieve happiness if we reach our goals or meet our potential. This message inspires us to reach as high as possible and to hopefully make it as close as possible to our goals. The trick in this is that “happiness” is seen as a goal and an essential element of success. This is a trick because happiness does not work well as a goal to strive toward, and does not automatically come with “success.” Here are three ways to re-frame our understanding happiness in order to help young people to truly achieve theirs.

1. Encourage goals and dreams as ways for children to use their unique aspects of themselves or their passion, not as ways to achieve happiness. Goals and dreams are wonderful, and every young person should have them. However, happiness or contentment is available to each person at any point in their journey, not just at the achievement. Along the way toward those goals or dreams there will also be struggles and setbacks. Meeting these challenges with responsible behavior and dedication can bring as much fulfillment as the achievement can, and will certainly be a part of the package.

2. Financial or career success does not automatically bring happiness. This is something we all know and is easy to see because there is evidence all over TV to show it. At the same time, what is shown on TV sends the message that we idolize people who are rich or famous. Let’s be clear with our young people that financial success may come if they push toward it, but who they are as people or their level of happiness should never be dependent on it. Although having money may relieve certain types of stress, it never automatically brings true happiness.

3. Change the phrase “do whatever makes you happy” to “do what you think is the right thing to do”.  Doing whatever we want does not necessarily make us happy. Often times, true pride, contentment, and happiness come from knowing that we loved our families, our communities, and ourselves. Happiness often comes as a result of a job well done. If we do what is right, we usually do feel happy, without necessarily having strived toward happiness. Rather, we performed at our best and are happy we did.

Don’t aim at success – the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.” Viktor Frankl

Father and daughter image available from Shutterstock.