Me: “Because I’m happy!”
Hannah: “You’re happy that he has a poopy diaper?! Why?”
Me: “Because I’m always happy!”
Hannah: “Even though you have to change it?”
Me: “Just because I have to change it doesn’t mean I’m not still happy. I’m always happy.”
Hannah: “Not always.”
Me: “Oh yeah? Tell me a time when I’m not happy!”
Hannah, thinking: “Well, when you scrape your knee you’re not happy!”
Me: “I haven’t scraped my knee since I was about 5 years old, and that was a long time ago!”
Hannah: “See, that means you weren’t always happy.”
Me: “I didn’t say a long time ago, I said I am always happy.”
Hannah: “And that means forever!”
At this point, my husband chimes in, and we have a little back and forth about if the word always has a tense, Hannah insisting it means all the things in the past, me trying to explain in 8-year-old terms how word modifiers work (that “have always been” would mean the past, that “am always” means the present, that “always will be” means the future). My husband says that I know what I’m talking about, since I know a lot about English (English major), and the point is dropped. But the semantics of word tenses were not really the issue! The conversation returns to the real point: always being happy.
Hannah asks, “So why are you always happy?”
I tell her that I have a wonderful family and lots of love and a great life. I am grateful and happy for that always. Hannah continues to provide hypothetical instances of things that would make me not be happy: something bad happening, being sick, etc. At this point I realize that to Hannah, being happy is something she thinks comes from the outside.
Outside reasons are also called external motivators or external stimuli. For more on External vs. Internal Motivation, check out this article. Circumstances, such as an unpleasant conversation, or changing a dirty diaper, may not be positive. They may not lift you up or make you feel good. These external stimuli are everywhere in our lives and cannot be avoided. Many people live their entire lives thinking that “happiness” comes from external stimuli: from people saying nice things to them, from people loving them, from getting offered a great job. In other words, they think that their happiness comes from some place outside of themselves, and that thinking puts their emotional well-being and mental state in the hands of environmental circumstances (other people, places, the weather). The downfall of this kind of thinking is that you cannot control external stimuli, and if rainy weather makes you unhappy, you have no control over your unhappiness if you live in Seattle!
This business of internal vs. external motivation for happiness is really just a mindset. When you realize that you are in control of your emotions, the power becomes yours to control your own life. How sad for people that feel their emotions and, ultimately, their happiness as a person, is determined by things they cannot control!
So how do we teach our children to be internally motivated? Hannah already got a little taste of the difference just from my explanation. I could see the gears in her mind turning as she processed this new viewpoint. Being grateful is my source of true happiness, and no one and nothing can ever take that away. A paradigm shift is hard to explain to an 8-year-old, but even louder than an explanation is an example. Show your children that when the unexpected happens, your happiness and love is still intact. That even though “bad luck” may have befallen your family (a lost job, a dying pet), true happiness is something you always have because it’s inside you.
Explain to your kids every time an opportunity arises, show them by your example. By teaching our children to find their true happiness inside, we are helping them grow into capable, powerful adults who can master their emotions, who are resilient and can handle life’s ups and downs!
Homemaker Barbi Says: Find your happiness today and share it with your children!