I had an epiphany the other day. It was a terrifying moment of clarity that made my palms sweat and my heart race. Suddenly one of my long-term goals as a parent didn't seem so, well, long-term.
One day, my kids are going to be adults.
Crap. I have to raise real, functional adults? People who pay bills? People who interact with other human beings (and don’t suck at it)?
People who are happy?
How do you teach that?
I admit. I panicked. And then I went to the internet.
I found thousands of parenting books and websites devoted to nothing but the day-to-day decision making of parenthood (time-management, hygiene, manners).
No surprise that there are also quite a few resources on how to raise an emotionally healthy child. What you can do to ensure your child grows into a happy, healthy adult.
I read a lot of them.
But the more I read, the more I realized that I have a real problem with a lot of this “professional” parenting advice.
It all focuses on the parent.
And I don’t believe that my children’s future happiness is solely dependent on how I raise them.
You see, I believe happiness is a choice, not a circumstance. It is a decision that I make for myself everyday, not a by-product of the decisions made by the people around me. And that is what I want my kids to believe as well. I want my children to take responsibility for their own happiness.
I couldn't find that in a list on BuzzFeed, so I made one of my own. It's not an all-inclusive list; It's constantly evolving. And that's part of the challenge.
But for right now, here are 10 lessons I believe my kids need to in order to be happy.
1. Be generous in all things… especially time, money, and kindness. Generosity is a symptom of integrity.
2. “Fair” and “equal” are not synonymous. Coming to terms with that as early as possible will save you a lot of heartache.
3. Respect isn't earned; it's lost. There isn't a person alive who doesn't deserve your respect from the first moment you meet. It's your responsibility to give that respect freely, and theirs to continue to give you a reason to do so. Likewise, be wary of anyone who doesn't offer you respect from the outset. You deserve it, too.
4. Be relentlessly, obnoxiously optimistic. Optimism is a skill: The more you practice it, the better you’ll be.
5. Learn to be okay with not being the best, the smartest, the most attractive, the most of anything. Happiness is not a competitive sport.
6. Be tactful. Honesty is a sharp weapon that shouldn't be treated as though it were dull. There's a reason people who are "blunt" do so much damage.
7. Surround yourself with diametrically opposing viewpoints. Your friends should be of varying ages, races, socioeconomic statuses, cultures, and religions—some like you, but some not. Disagreement is the lifeblood of wisdom.
8. Be both independent and vulnerable. Find the delicate balance between allowing others to do too much and allowing them to do what they can.
9. Treat your body and your heart with respect, especially when it comes to sex. Sex isn't the kind of gift that you can get back—once it has been given, it belongs to the other person forever.
10. Make the conscious decision to find joy in your life every day. Some days it will be obvious and effortless. Other days will take work, but there is always something for which you should be thankful.
Who knows? Maybe this will actually work. I’ll let you know in 20 years or so.