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Promoting Happiness in our Children

Martin Seligman, a leading researcher in the field of positive psychology, has worked towards a better
understanding of what makes life more fulfilling. In his work on well-being, Seligman has indicated
that 40 percent of our potential for happiness lies within our control. That means that, although we
cannot easily change our circumstances or our genes, there are things we can learn that can improve our
outlook on life and promote happiness. As parents, the more we practice some of these good habits
with our children, the more likely they are to tune in to happiness and the feeling that they are loved,
worthy and capable. Here are some ideas that can boost our children’s mood and — in the long run —
lead to healthier, happier lives.

Enjoy the small stuff. Teaching our children that the secret to happiness could be as simple as noticing
little pleasures and accomplishments in our everyday moments can have a powerful, positive effect. It
is often helpful to model this by giving our own examples. For instance, letting our kids know about the
small positives in our day or commenting on things we enjoy (“I love this music – it makes me so
happy!”) can invite them to practice paying attention to little things that can lift them up.

Foster a spirit of gratitude and kindness. Research shows that expressing gratitude and practising
little acts of kindness can improve our mood and mindset and lead to a better feeling about
life overall. For instance, helping kids start a journal where they can draw or write about the things that
are going well or that they are grateful for, including small meaningful pleasures, is a simple but
powerful practice. Similarly, inviting kids to write a letter of gratitude to someone who helped them
through a difficult time or encouraging them to come up with different little acts of kindness and reach
out to those in need, can help shift focus away from their anxieties and make them feel more connected
with others.

The power of relationships. A sense of connectedness is one of the most valuable protective factors
against life stressors. When we build a close relationship with our children and help them engage in
meaningful bonding moments with others where they can share their experiences and feel understood,
happiness is often a natural result. Because we cannot always be there to buffer our children, finding
those additional support systems in our extended family, at our kids’ school, or in our neighbourhood is
key for our youngsters to feel connected and supported in their different environments.

Embrace uniqueness. Our personal happiness is also greatly affected by how we feel about ourselves.
When we help our children embrace their unique qualities, with all their strengths, imperfections, and
vulnerabilities, we strengthen their sense of self, their awareness and acceptance of themselves, leading
them to feel personally powerful. Therefore, avoid comparisons and encourage kids to define
themselves in their own terms by expressing what they like, what is important to them or what inspires
them — as a way of practising to reflect on the amazing beings they are — just the way they are.

Nurture a healthy mindset. The focus on giving our best effort but not sweating the small stuff, where
taking risks and getting it wrong is allowed, will foster our children’s creativity, their readiness to
embrace challenge and their overall satisfaction with what they have or what they achieve in their life.
Also, showing our kids how we can shift our mindset to a more positive one when we exercise, listen to
happy music, have a good laugh or choose a goal and work steadily towards it, provides a template they
can use in living a happier and more rewarding life.

-Written by Dr. Blanka Miletic, C. Psych, Psychologist

Dr. Blanka Miletic is a child and school Psychologist at the Kanata Psychology and Counselling Centre who works with children, adolescents, and adults. To book an appointment with Dr. Miletic, please call (613) 435-2729 or e-mail Alternatively, you can click the “Book an Appointment” button above and select Dr. Miletic as who you would like to meet with.
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