Friday, August 8, 2014

There is now a happiness equation

Whenever I used to ask my mother what she wanted for a birthday or Christmas, she would always answer the same thing: "Nothing." If pressed, she would tell me that all she wanted was for us to be happy.

It's the sort of non-answer that a lot of Moms give. Yes, parents want their children to be happy, although we have to realize that we aren't responsible for their happiness. But how do you teach happiness or even know what is going to cause it?

Researchers at the University London College have been studying happiness, and they've actually created a formula that accurately predicts people's happiness levels. I can't replicate the formula here, but you can see it in the article by Time magazine.

Despite my best attempts at becoming a math genius, I need all those numbers translated into English for me. The basics of the findings report that to be happier, we need to lower our expectations (which sounds a lot like the marriage advice study) and that if we have positive expectations for an event, that those expectations will increase our eventual happiness level.

Fantastic. We've cracked the code. How do we teach that to our children? I, for one, am not about to crush my son's dreams of flying a flame car that shoots out candy to everyone by telling him to lower his expectations. So, here's what I am doing instead:
  • Vocalize happiness before and during activities. We play games as a family. And there is a little smack talk involved about who will win or lose, but there are also a lot of smiles as we play together. I just need to throw in a few, "I can't waits" and "This is so fun" while I lose at Uno.
  • Ask questions. I am going to start to ask my son more about what he likes to do and what makes him happy.
  • Be careful about building things up. In my search for finding adventures in the everyday moments, sometimes I get my son too excited. Like the time that we took him to the passport office and he had to engage with government employees that fit their negative stereotypes perfectly.
But happiness is bigger than my immediate family. I may have to reach out to my Mom (fair warning, Mom) and ask her what makes her happy. And my coworkers. And my friends.

What about you? What makes you happy? Tell me in the comments.

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