Wednesday Wisdom

September 23, 2020

Learned Happiness

By Dr Kathy Weston

Learned Happiness


I have been thinking about the many times I have come across parents who insist they just want their child ‘to be happy’. Sometimes, this goal is articulated as a quasi-apology for not wanting to read hundreds of parenting books, attend parenting talks or reflect too much on what their child needs.

It is almost as if my unapologetic approach to optimal parenting is too aspirational, too pushy; giving excessive scrutiny to what is surely the most intuitive job in the world. The desire for one’s child to be happy is a casual assertion, but it fails to convey the emotional labour it takes for a child to feel sufficiently content to self-label as ‘happy’.

My additional disgruntlement about the pursuit of ‘happiness’, is that it’s not an inclusive goal. What about all the other emotions that make up life’s rainbow? Should they never be experienced? Would you deny your child a taste of failure or brutal disappointment?


Hand on heart, I hope my children experience the full range of emotions that life has to offer and understand that it’s perfectly normal to experience many of them in a single day. I want them to know that happiness isn’t something that happens to you; it requires proactivity.

Happiness has been scrutinised by psychologists and its ingredients deciphered. It is associated with a care-free approach to life which belies the need for strategic thinking. Being organised, setting goals, planning ahead and mapping out things to look forward to, all help to form a happy mindset.

The same strategic thinking can be applied to relationships; teaching our children to be discerning about the company they keep and on the alert for dynamics that make them feel ‘drained’, rather than charged up. Being happy is about being cognitively flexible and this is a learned skill.
Seeing things from different perspectives, whilst remaining empathetic, is key. Happy people aren’t afraid to listen and learn, to challenge their own assumptions and negative thoughts, and work hard to influence them.

Happy people know what they like to do and spend time doing it. They value socialising as well as solitary endeavours. They are practised in the art of managing difficulty and cultivate their own internal toolkit for navigating life’s stressors. The Happy are protective of their own health and are ‘happy enough’ with how they look.


If it all sounds like hard work, well, that’s because it is. Good parenting is hard work, requiring constant reflection and re-evaluation.

We have to stay motivated too, but that bit is easy; our children are the loves of our lives and their happiness central to our own. As a family, try to define ‘happiness’ as part of family discussion, prompt your children towards identifying what makes them happy, talk about the things that cause feelings of unhappiness and, where appropriate, proactively share strategies for alleviating and moving past these feelings. Happiness is a work in progress after all.

Are you a Tooled Up member?

If you are a registered member of the Tooled Up community, why not explore our Happiness Checklist with your children. Use any statements that don’t ring true for them as a talking point in family chat.