Finish this sentence: "I just want my kids to be ... " Like millions of other parents, you may well have said, "I just want my kids to be happy." I have said the same myself.
But while wanting happiness for our children makes sense, decades of research presents a paradox: Focusing on happiness is not a great way to actually be happy.
Happiness, it turns out, is not an end in itself. It's a consequence, not a goal. As Dr. Spock said: "The trouble with happiness is that it can't be sought directly. It is only a precious by-product of other worthwhile activities."
And too often, we parents equate happiness with pleasure and gratification. We try to pick summer camps our kids will "like", offer them meals they will "like," organize play-dates with kids they "like," and so on. Over time, these interactions send the message to kids that happiness is found in feeling good and getting what we want, and that organizing food, activities, relationships and even life itself around our preferences is the way to go.
So what are the "worthwhile activities" Dr. Spock was referring to? Again, the research is clear. "Worthwhile activities" have two critical dimensions: engagement and meaning.