Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Teaching Exuberance

J, like kids of her age can alternate between being very happy about the here and now (as in saying my chicken with lemon-pepper seasoning and fresh rosemary is the best food in the whole world and should replace every other kind of food there is) and turning petulant for what she does not have (a "real" home, a sibling, extended family, a mom who can be home when she comes back from school in the afternoon and a dad - in that order).

Recently, she spent a miserable Saturday morning because we were not able to find her doll Junie - last seen a few years ago. Junie was of course not the real problem but became its representative. When J gets in these moods which is thankfully a rare occurrence, it takes quite a bit of work to make her snap out of it. We had our breakthrough that evening when I got her to help me make some "magic potion" - lemon juice, sugar and rosewater mixed in ice cold water. The recipe had been found in one of the Tales Alive ! books we have borrowed from the library.

I don't know about "gratitude intervention" this article talks about, but I try to talk to J about all the lucky things that happened to us to allow us to live the life we lead today. I show her examples from the lives of those around us where people have all the things she does not have and yet are really not jumping for joy as she might expect. Yet, people with much less are more full of joy.

I try to illustrate to her that happiness is not a function of what shes has or does not have and what's more, it is entirely up to her to be as happy as she wants to be. I try to be a good example by not being a whiner and seeking opportunity in the many inopportune challenges I face from day to day. Yet I am only too human and often reach my limits. I have gone through days feeling anything but cheerful. The more I try to compartmentalize my own state of mind and my outward behavior with J so she is not impacted by them, the greater the strain on both of us.

There is much I have to learn of the art of being happy and do believe parents need help on how they could teach kids to be happy without taking the path of least resistance which involves numbing them with material excess. After a while, I seem to run out of new things to say on the subject, fresh perspectives to share with J.

There is some risk though with turning completely Pollyanna in the real world :
Following on the heels of the self-improvement and self-esteem movements (the latter of which is now criticized as sparking an epidemic of narcissism and out-of-control praise), positive psychology might just be another fad, they say. It probably won't hurt anyone, but will it help in significant ways?

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