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The Unhelpful Pressure to Find a Happy Life

I've been doing an informal poll now for at least a decade. Whenever I'm working with a group of students, I'll ask them about their future plans. Specifically, I'll ask them this question:

"What do your parents tell you about your future? What do they want for you?"

No matter where the kids grew up, the results are always the same: about half of the group has parents who've expressed specific expectations for their future. Doctor, lawyer, engineer, or anything that makes predictable income. 

The other half typically starts off by shrugging and saying, "My parents don't have any expectations for my future. They just want me to be happy." They all nod their heads together in unison because their parents have said the exact same thing. 

"Is that helpful?" I inquire. 

"NO!" They reply, sometimes with a hint of frustration. 

Here's the deal. I've said that exact same thing to my three kids, with tremendous sincerity and encouragement behind it. But, I've been learning, that kids don't need their parents to tell them to be happy. Why?

  1. For one, they already feel the burden of growing up and taking responsibility for their lives. That's difficult enough. Every kid understands they will be accountable to handle their own lives someday soon. They don't need an additional burden of being self-sufficient AND happy. 

  2. Secondly, they're fine with the sentiment but frustrated with the lack of support to find that elusive happiness. One student confessed that his parents are miserable, yet they expect him to be happy. "How am I supposed to figure out what makes a happy life when all I've seen is sadness and disappointment?"

  3. Third, it's too abstract to be helpful. What is happiness, anyway? Is it comfort? Is it where everything you want happens the way you want it to happen? Is it the absence of anxiety and frustration? The concept is too broad, and not concrete enough. 

So, what can well-intentioned adults do to actually help their kids find happiness?

Stay tuned...

[Make sure to read Every Kid Needs a Little Clarity in the meantime]

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For years we’ve been studying what a young person needs in order to transition into a healthy, thriving adulthood.  

They're uncommon sense ideas, really.

Download this checklist and use it with your students (or kids).

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