Is a focus on happiness helpful to children?
I am bit confused by what I perceive as a focus on happiness as the desired emotional state. It makes me wonder what is wrong with all the other emotions. And if I wonder that as an adult, I wonder if it is confusing for children. Happiness can be a wonderful emotion to experience but there are so many others and each, I believe, is equally valid. I believe our challenge is to support children to understand their emotional world rather than supporting them to continually seek happiness. It may be that by doing the first they will, at some point, experience the second.
But, sitting with a child grieving a close family member, I understand their anger. Our time together isn't spent searching for happiness. Instead, we try to see, hear and touch their anger as, together, we carefully creep around every furious corner. I remember sitting with a teenager who had been working every weekend to save for driving lessons and they heard that a close friend had been gifted theirs. I understood their jealousy. I felt comfortable sitting in it with them as we heard and felt it in all its might. Or when I sat with a child who hadn't been safe at home. I understood their meanness in peer relationships. I was ready to be curious with them about it and in that curiosity seek a path to something different.
Sometimes, it seems that people see emotions as either acceptable or unacceptable, with emotions such as happiness and kindness falling in to the first group whilst anger and jealousy would be part of the second. I worry that if children see happiness as the 'best' emotion or the emotion adults prize the most, they may hide some of the others in a bid to please those around them. That if happiness is held up as the only destination, then vital moments of the journey will be discounted, squashed down or misfiled in a way that will cause difficulty later. For, if a child isn't supported in all parts of their emotional world, how will they learn how to support themselves with it?
As one of the young people I work with said to me recently, "I get it. It's not about being happy is it? Loads of my friends are waiting to feel that. It's about being okay with now." She said it so much more succinctly than I ever could!