I Don't Want My Kids To Be Happy

Hoagie’s Gifted Education posed a tricky question for this month’s bloghop:  What Do We Need to Teach Other Than Academics?  Tricky not because I can only think of academic lessons.  Tricky because of all the things, academics is actually pretty low down on my list.  I think of all the things that need to be taught to the gifted and 2e kids I love, I work with, I live with, I adore, and my list seems unending:

How to shut doors

How to remember to bring shoes on a car trip

How to know when to stop talking and listen

How to sit still for longer than 5 seconds

How to express their fabulously wild ideas in ways us mere mortals will understand

How to advocate without using the words, “This is stupid”

How to sit through a meeting without screaming from the slow pace and utter mundanity

And the list goes on.  But, I had to settle on something.  For all the things that I think our kids need to learn, I believe one of the most important is

To Not Want to be Happy.

Weird, maybe.  Maybe it sounds cynical on the black and white of print or digital media.  But, I really don’t mean that in a life’s-always-gonna-be-miserable-so-you-might-as-well-get-used-to-it kind of way.

No.  I believe the most important thing we can teach our kids is how to regulate their emotions and find value in all their emotions.

We’ve grown into this culture that wants our kids to be happy.  That hedonistically searches after the temporary moments of joy at all cost.  That pushes away all those unpleasant feelings in order to post smiling faces and bright sunshiny moments on Instagram.  I don’t want that.  I don’t want my kids to be happy.  I don’t want happiness to be their end-all be-all goal.  Why?  Because it’s unobtainable.

Kids need to learn how to be content regardless of their degree of happiness.  Happiness is an emotion, and like all other emotions, it is triggered by something.  It is innately fleeting.  It is impossible to feel happy all the time.  When we strive for happiness, we miss all the beauty of the other bazillion emotions that pulse through our souls.  Pleasant and unpleasant, emotions are valuable and informative and the content of a life well lived.

And, let’s be honest.  Most gifted individuals live too complexly to live a life of constant happiness.  These reflective minds and leanings toward justice will see and experience deep levels of pain, sadness, anger.  These emotionally intense creatures we have the pleasure of raising will experience utter joy, suffocating sorrow, pulsating anger, and paralyzing fear.  They are destined to live beautifully complicatedly intensely emotional lives.  And their lives would be less than they deserve if they focus solely on happiness.

So, no.  I do not want my kids, or any of the kids I work with, to be happy.  I want them to be content.  Contentedness is a choice.  It is a mindset.  It is a way of living life that can exude from one’s core no matter what circumstances or emotions surround them.  It is a way of living that can be taught, and it is far more crucial to learn than any academic knowledge.  In fact, in order to learn the academic content, one must first be emotionally regulated.

The ONLY place to start with teaching kids how to regulate their emotions and be content regardless, is to model it.  Yep.  We need to first learn how to regulate our own emotions.  We need to show these children of ours that we also experience big emotions of all varieties and that we can feel them without them hijacking us and dictating our behaviors.  And yes, I mean show them all the feels.  Grieving?  Show it.  Angry?  Show it.  Excited?  Show it.  Show them that emotions are valid and expected and okay.

There are 4 easy to explain but not so easy to utilize steps toward healthy emotion regulation.

                1 – Be mindful of what you are feeling.  Hard to regulate something that we are unaware of.  And I’m not just talking about recognizing your emotion of choice and comfort.  Dig deeper.  What’s underneath that anger or sadness?  Be mindful of all of the feelings.  Learn how your body feels as you experience various emotions.  Acknowledge and accept how you are truly feeling.

                2 – Allow yourself to feel it.  Let the emotion course through you.  Let the sadness hollow out your stomach til you feel like you’re going to be sick.  Let the anger tighten your muscles and scream through your mind.  Puff up your chest with pride until a smile unwittingly spreads across your face.  Let yourself feel all the contradictory feelings that often come up.  Feel it.  All of it. 

                3 – Express it and Transform the Energy.  Emotions hold energy.  That energy needs to be released.  If it is not released it will stagnate internally and grow into something ultra gross and unhelpful.  We have to open our release valve and let the energy out, in safe ways.  Let yourself lose control with anger in a controlled way.  Throw stuffed animals at a blank wall.  Go for a run and pound the ground with every step.  Scribble.  Write obscenities in bold, scratchy, anger-filled penmanship.  Go nuts on the piano.  Let the angry energy out and watch as it transforms to a calmer state of being.  When we allow ourselves to intentionally release the emotional energy, we are able to do so in ways that don’t hurt ourselves or others.  When we keep the energy inside, it eventually builds to a breaking point, hijacks us, and bursts forth in (internally or externally) destructive ways.

                4 – Decide how to respond.  After the emotion has been expressed, with a clear mind, decide how to respond to the situation that triggered the emotion in the first place.

When we can regulate our emotions well, we genuinely can feel content regardless of the pleasantness or unpleasantness of our experience.  I know this.  I know it from personal experience as I found contentment in the midst of multi-layered grief.  I know it from professional experience as I’ve walked alongside people who’ve experienced horrendous trauma and find a way to be content.

Again.  I do not want my kids to be happy.  I want them to be happy and angry and sad and worried and scared and excited and embarrassed and proud and above all, in it all, content.

Wondering what other things might be important for our kids to learn?  Check out the other great thoughts of contributors to this month's Hoagies' Gifted bloghop.