I’m not sure if it is just me, but there seems to be a lot of unrest and unhappiness in the world today. All you have to do is to turn on the evening news or even look at your daily news feed on Facebook and you will see too many people full of hate and bitterness. As a mother, I feel a great responsibility to offset those things in the world that could bring feelings of self-doubt and unhappiness to my children. I want them to learn joy, and I want to teach them how to find joy on their own as well.
“Why joy?” you may ask. When I was a new mom, I came across a wonderful book called “Teaching Your Children Joy” by Linda & Richard Eyre. Before reading this book, I hadn’t realized that there is a difference between true joy and happiness. Happiness is defined as a “state of well being, a pleasurable or satisfying experience.” Happiness is a great thing, but it can be fleeting depending on circumstances. However, joy comes “from the word rejoice, to be exceedingly glad.” True joy is everlasting and not dependent upon circumstances. What better thing for children to learn than how to find joy, whether it be joy in their family, joy in who they are, or joy in the world around them?
Researchers at the Health Psychology Center claim that happiness is actually subjective. What matters is our individual perception of happiness. It is something that can be measured depending on how a person feels at the time. On the other hand, those researchers also say, “Joy is a state of mind, a combination of emotions and in the spiritual context, is an orientation of the heart. Joy contains the established elements of contentment, confidence and hope.”
Singer/songwriter Sheryl Crow understood this difference when she wrote in one of her well-known songs “If it makes you happy, then why the hell are you so sad?” Crow understands that there are plenty of things in this world that can give us pleasure but still ultimately leave us feeling empty inside. Have you ever wondered why actors or other rich people are so unhappy and commit suicide? It’s because they never had joy. Oh they may have had some happiness from their success, but money and fame do not buy happiness nor joy. Pleasure is fleeting and can never bring lasting happiness. So how can we teach our children to find joy?
I’ve come to believe that one of the most important ways we can teach children to find joy is to teach them to have gratitude. They can find joy by being grateful for the things they have rather than grieving over the things they don’t have. Barbara Lewis, author of “What Do You Stand For? For Kids: a guide for building character.” In the book, Lewis says that “Grateful kids look outside their one-person universe and understand that their parents and other people do things for them — prepare dinner, dole out hugs, buy toys. On the flip side, kids who aren’t taught to be grateful end up feeling entitled and perpetually disappointed.”
Unfortunately, I have seen this kind of attitude in children and adults alike. They always want more. They have to have the newest iPhone, or a bigger house, a new car, a boat, world travel, or just more stuff. They see things that others have and are never satisfied. When you only want more, you can become empty inside. What they don’t realize is that this emptiness can’t be filled with things. It can only be filled with living a life of purpose which includes having an attitude of gratitude.
Researchers who study gratitude have found that “grateful people report higher levels of happiness and optimism — along with lower levels of depression and stress.” This doesn’t mean that we should never strive to better ourselves and our circumstances. Wanting to provide a better life can be a powerful motivation that can help us improve, but we should never let it get to the point where we forget to be thankful for the things we do have.
The second best way I have learned that can teach children to find joy is to help them understand the value of work and responsibility. Henry Ford once said, “There is joy in work. There is no happiness except in the realization that we have accomplished something.” Ford understood that no matter how much someone thinks they may want to have everything handed to them and to live a life of ease, it’s really a false ideal. When we take away a child’s ability to take responsibility for a task and to work hard to accomplish it, we take away their ability to find joy. We are not doing them any favors by making life too easy for them. We are setting them up for personal failure and emptiness.
When a child learns to work, they find a joy in themselves based on the knowledge that they can accomplish something. They learn how to help others, and have a better sense of who they are inside. Work doesn’t always have to be “hard” to be meaningful. My parents taught me growing up to always do my best when I am doing something. Children who learn how to work as a child become adults who can be relied on to finish tasks and are more likely to become leaders and well respected.
Joy in life can come in many ways. Living a life of purpose is the best way we can find joy in our life. This includes not only having gratitude and learning to work but also hundreds of other things that we can do to fill our lives and the lives of our children with joy. Our world is filled with unlimited possibilities and limitless opportunities for joy. Recognizing that is the real power of joy.