Dear Kids: What I Want You to Know About Happiness

The Key To Happiness [infographic]
Image courtesy of DegreeSearch.org
While I was pregnant in late 2012 with my current youngest child, I subscribed to the Baby Center weekly email updates to track the milestones of my pregnancy.

Since the baby arrived in March of 2013, I have still received weekly updates geared toward the milestones of babyhood, and now, toddlerhood.

Usually I simply ignore them or delete them; then, this week, one popped up with an article headline that caught my eyes...and made me raise my eyebrows:

"Is Your Toddler Happy? Raising a Happy Kid."


Irritated, I clicked through to skim the article. I sighed with a bit of relief to see that the article focused on teaching children from the time they are toddlers to find happiness on their own, to choose happiness rather than to expect happiness.

It wasn't what I had expected to read, quite frankly.  

What I had expected to find was an article filled with age appropriate gift ideas, with overblown party ideas, with elaborate themed bedroom ideas.  I had expected to find a fluffy article filled with Ten Great Ways to Make Your Child Feel Super Special - and Happy!  Oh.So.Happy! 

Having been at this mom gig for well over a decade now, I've seen it over and over again through the years: the idea that kids need to be perpetually happy in order to have a good childhood and therefore a good life.

And since I have a different idea of what happiness is, and what a good childhood and a good life is, I wanted to share that in a note to my four children here, a note I hope they find one day when they are older.

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Dear Kids,

You're growing up in a time and a culture that will tell you that the ultimate goal in life is to, "be happy."

The world will tell you all sorts of things about what it means to be happy and how important it is to find happiness.  Things like follow your dreams.  Make your passion into your work.  Live every day like it's your last.  Find your true love.  Have lots of money.

Not all of these things are altogether wrong.

But not all of these things are altogether right, either.

You see, kiddos, you can choose to relentlessly pursue your happiness in life if you wish.  Maybe becoming an astronaut is your life's dream, one that you've held close to your heart since you first looked up at the stars in the night sky.  And so you set out to do all that it takes to become an astronaut: school, training, more school, more training, rigorous health and exercise plan, etc, etc.

As you relentlessly pursue this goal, this gotta-get-there-to-find-my-happy goal, you will have to work hard. You will have to stay focused.  And you will have to say one word over and over again:

No.

NO.

Why?

Because in order to get to that very big and best goal in your life, the highest achievement you can possibly dream of ever attaining, to the biggest YES of your life, you must say NO to the many smaller good things that you encounter along the way.

And in saying NO to the many smaller good things that so that you can hopefully work hard enough to say YES to the one big best thing, you will learn the what lies at the heart of true happiness in this life:

Sacrifice.

You see, that big list I gave you up above? All those things that the world will tell you will make you happy? The thing is, the world will also tell you that you can somehow have ALL of them, ALL at once.

What you won't hear about if you listen to the world is the importance of sacrifice.  Instead, you'll probably hear some version of the opposite point of view.  Maybe it will sound like, "having it all," or, "finding balance."  In these versions, the world will tell you that you can actually say YES to all those other good things in some small measure and still find a way to get to that one big YES that is your heart's deepest desire.

Wow, sounds amazing!

But it's just not so.

Part of the reason why the world will tell you this is that the world can't make a buck on sacrifice.  Yup, there's a bottom line involved here, kiddos; there always is.  Once the world can convince you that you can say yes all the time to every good thing that comes along - toys, gadgets, travel, food, houses, cars, endless degrees from fancy colleges, perpetually youthful appearance, fill-in-the-blank - then the world can keep selling you all those good things and turning a nice little profit off your yes here and yes there, too.

Another reason why the world will tell you this is because it's just easier to say yes than to say no.  Every parent that's stood in line in the grocery store with a two year old having a nuclear meltdown because they want THAT candy bar RIGHT now and MOMMYDADDY PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE I GOTTA HAVE IT knows this truth, has lived this truth, has either capitulated and said yes to that toddler or suffered the glares of the general public and said no to that toddler to prove this truth.

It is so.much.easier to say yes in life than to say no, especially when you're surrounded by others who are busy saying yes, yes, yes.  And when you find the strength to whisper a quiet no amid the shouts of YES, to willingly sacrifice, you sometimes stand out a bit.

And that can be mighty uncomfortable.

Saying NO doesn't come easy to anyone so don't expect to be good at it overnight.  Don't worry; you have a whole life ahead of you to practice and get more comfortable with the word.  Sacrificing isn't supposed to be easy, no matter how many times you do it.

But sacrificing does get better, especially when you discover the biggest secret to happiness of all:

Saying NO to yourself so that you can say YES to someone else.

Sounds crazy, doesn't it?

But it works, I swear.

When you find a way to sacrifice for others, to say NO to something you want so that you can turn to the person next to you and say YES, you'll have found the sweet spot of happiness:

Sacrificing your wants, needs, and desires in order to achieve the good of others.

Sometimes those people will be strangers and the sacrifice will be small and fleeting.  Perhaps you'll be in the grocery store with an overflowing cart and a mom with two restless little ones will get in line behind you.  Seeing that she has just a few items, you let her go ahead of you rather than wait another ten minutes with tired toddlers.  She may smile her gratitude and you might bask in the quiet satisfaction of being a good neighbor.

But often, the real sacrifice will come for the people you love the most - friends, family, spouses, children. Those sacrifices can be the most taxing for they are the biggest: daily, constant, exhausting, and lasting the entirety of your life. Often, the thank yous are few and far between.  More often, the sacrifices come with struggle and conflict, both internally and externally.  And sadly, you may not always see the fruits of your sacrifices flourish in your lifetime.

Tread carefully here, kiddos, for this place - this intersection of sacrifice with suffering - is where you might find yourselves broadsided by despair and doubt.  The world will tell you that the best cure for that double whammy is a big old dose of YES.

YES, you deserve to be happy after all that sacrifice!

YES, you've earned the right to be happy after all that sacrifice!

YES, it's your time to be happy after all that sacrifice!

You'll need to fight the impulse to say YES and agree with the world during those dark times.  It will be hard, but I have two things I want you to remember when the sacrifices seem endless and life is tough.

First, remember those Beatitudes you learned in grade school?  Do you remember what you once told me you learned about the Beatitudes - that the very word "beatitude" means happiness?

It doesn't just mean happiness; the very definition of beatitude is supreme blessedness or exalted happiness.  

That's a lot to think about, especially after you read through The Beatitudes:

"5 When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the [a]mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying,[b]Blessed are the [c]poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.“Blessed are the [d]gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.10 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." - Matthew 5:5-11

There's a lifetime of sacrifice, of blessedness, and of exalted happiness to ponder in those words; let them comfort you when times are tough.  

Second, find a crucifix.  Go grab your rosary, or look over your bed, or walk into church and look above the altar.  Fix your eyes on Christ crucified and remember this:

Jesus sacrificed His life for YOU.

Jesus said NO to this life and died alone, forsaken on the cross, abandoned by His Father, for YOU.

Jesus said NO to Himself so that He could say YES for YOU -

All because He loves you.

Oh, my dear kiddos, how I hope you find your way to happiness in this life.  I hope you come to see that happiness lies not in saying yes to yourself alone, in keeping all of your talents, time, blessings, and gifts clutched tightly in your fists, shared grudgingly, if at all.

Let it all go, kiddos.  Give it all away.

You won't regret it, I promise.

Love,

Mom