Why so concerned with “happiness”

My kids see my husband and I all the time. Up to the age of 4 we are both the primary care givers. Once they begin school and music lessons they begin to meet the world. Schooling ends and again they are again in the fold of their parents. So much togetherness forces the issue of emotions.   My children have seen all range of emotions. They know that I can cry when I am tired and tense,  I can be angry when I am feeling sorry about something, or be grouchy when I am tired or hungry. While I am scolding them and upset, dissapointed or frustrated I sometimes remind them I love them at the same time I reiterate how I feel and why. 

My 6 year old explained to my 3 year old who had just spilled milk all over the coffee table within a foot of my laptop: "Javier, mami may be mad at you but she always loves you." It was good to know that through all the repetition the message had stuck. Not only the messages seem to be understood, the emotional analysis seems to be catching on too… Javier (3y) will now turn around and tell me when I deny him a petition that he is "very angry with me because I am being mean with him because I said no when he wanted to play with play dough". I congratulated him on his complete assessment, gave him a hug, told him I loved him and still said "no."

Now, the next time I say "no" or have my children bummed out I will go the extra step and set them to do some home based learning activity: puzzles, mind games, reading or math. I just read in Education Week (June 11, 2008) in an article by Kathleen Kennedy Manzo that happy is not all its cracked up to be in learning circles. It seems students  who were feeling melancholy, somber, neutral or just not happy were better at detail oriented tasks and math. Students who were happy were less able to concentrate and made more mistakes.


I include an excerpt: ( you can read on online at www.edweek.org)

Somber Students Found to Outperform Cheerful Students

"A Hidden Cost of Happiness in Children"

"a new study suggests that a positive  is not always a plus for performance. The study in the June issue of the journal Developmental Science found that children who fell happy don’t do as well on tasks that require precision as their peers who are sad or have neutral feelings."

…."The findings are consistent with similar studies taht found ‘particular moods trigger unique styles of information processing," according to the report. Happiness, for example inspires a ‘top-down style of information processing, and sadness, a bottom-up style," the report says."


I guess this report  also explains why I need to get in a special mood to do accounting. Needless to say those days are not my happy days.

There is so much emphasis these days with "quality time" with our kids, the need for kids to be "happy" and the overall yearning to be "happy." Many seemed convinced that we have a constitutional right to be "happy." I actually am happy that the constitution defends freedom and left out happiness. I believe the focus on "happiness" is a disservice to the emotional maturity of our children, to healthy relationships and to the daily exercise of tolerance and compassion.

Raised in a tropical Island where the overall daily mantra is akin to "don’t worry be happy" it is not a stretch for many who met me in my younger days to describe me as "happy."  I learned when I was 18 and living abroad that "happy" was not all it was cracked up to be. But up until then, I had not questioned "happiness" as an ideal

After seven months of a very cool and distant rapport with peers at a swiss gymnasium I learned that it was my smiley demeanor that inspired distrust, distance and disregard. All that time I had been eager to make friends, wondering why they did not stay and it was my seemingly "eternal happiness" or chipper attitude that worked against me. It was at that moment that I took a skeptical look at my own emotions, my public expression and my policy toward sharing them. Had I shown a need, my friends, explained later they would have acted sooner.

The struggle I see is around be is between an unattainable ideal of each person living in an "island of happiness" with no needs, no wants and a pill might ensure you sustain the happies, versus the less atractive and less secure living in a muddy, messy, chaotic world of imperfect people creating networks to help each other out and make the world a better place.

As I set out to become a parent I heard many a time over to keep arguments with my spouse in the bedroom. The ideal was an eternally placid mother, parents that never argued and hence it seemed children would understand in that peace that they were always loved.  I chose differently.