One of the secrets to being happy is to look at what we do have instead of focusing on what we do not. If we all know this truth, why do we sometimes find ourselves so miserable?
Confronting Mistaken Thinking
Whenever someone asks me how to help their child feel happy or satisfied, I offer them strategies based on their child’s mistaken “shoulds” and “should haves.” That means, their child mistakenly believes that they “should have” x item or circumstance in their lives, and if they do not, they will be miserable.
If a child often complains, “it’s not fair!” perhaps the child believes that he or she “should have” what others have. If, for example, a child is miserable because a certain boy on the bus does not want to sit next to him, perhaps the child believes that everyone “should” want to sit with him, or he “shouldn’t” ever feel hurt. Of course, these challenges can be hurtful, but that does not mean we “shouldn’t” experience them. Only Hashem decides what we “should have” and must experience, and whatever we go through is always uniquely designed with Hashem’s absolute love for us, and is actually for our own good, even when we often don’t see it that way. We want to model for our children that we believe only Hashem determines what we “should” have. We need to check our own behavior to make sure we do not act like we are the ones who decide how life should be
The Healthy Approach to Challenges
There’s a big difference between feeling hurt, disappointed (or any challenging feeling for that matter) in a healthy way, and experiencing those feelings in an unhealthy way. For example, if we apply to a school or a certain class for our child and he gets rejected, it’s so normal to feel sad. But in addition to feeling sad, do we also feel that we shouldn’t even be experiencing this rejection, that our child “should have” been accepted over another child?
If someone says something we don’t like, do our children see that we act as if we believe that people should only say things we do like?
If we want to raise healthy-minded, happy children we need to balance the ability to empathize when they have intense feelings along with giving the message that there are no “should haves” in life.
Pain vs. Misery
Pain is natural, but misery doesn’t have to be.
When a doctor pokes us for a blood test, it hurts. That is a sign that our skin is healthy. and the nerves are working well. If we know the pain is normal we can accept it more peacefully. If we think it’s not supposed to hurt, we can end up feeling anxious.
Emotional pain works that way as well. If we have a challenging experience we may feel hurt, embarrassed, disappointed, or frustrated. However, if our emotional system is intact, we know this pain is normal and can accept it peacefully. But if we start to wonder why this is happening, and then create lists of all the reasons why it should not be so, we can find ourselves unnecessarily miserable.
The great news is that we were not born thinking our lives “should” be a certain way, so we can let go of those “should” thoughts one at a time.
Strategies to Help Your Children Embrace Their Challenges
Tell your children that happy people know that there are no “shoulds” in life.
Live by this philosophy and model it for your children. Try asking your older children to read this article and to share with their younger siblings that you are working to let go of all the “shoulds” you have in your own brain.
When your children are frustrated empathize but never pity. If Hashem decided they need a certain challenge in order to grow, why should we pity them? Empathy without pity is very healthy. It means put yourself in their shoes, so you can really try to understand what they are going through. Be kind, supportive, caring, and loving.
These strategies can give your children the tools they need to embrace life with all its ups and downs, knowing that all their feelings are normal, and they can feel peaceful inside, even amidst internal or external challenges.