By: Dr Justin Coulson
We all want our kids to feel good. Ice cream. Cake. Beach days. Playdates. These are all great for bringing joy. But typically, these good feelings don’t last. Once the ice cream is gone, or the playdate is over, our kids often lose the zest and pep they were feeling.
So, how do make and keep the feel-good feelings?
Feeling Good versus Doing Good
Ice cream, cake, beach days and playdates all ‘feel good’ but they don’t help us to have lasting happiness. Instead, feel-good pursuits give us an immediate rush of euphoria, but leave us craving for more.
And this can lead to an addictive cycle known as ‘the hedonic treadmill’. In that case, one cookie won’t be enough to give us good feelings, we’ll need two. And maybe the next week, we’ll need three. (Until we have so many that we feel bad. Really bad!)
Doing good, however, is the key to living a more meaningful and happier existence. The ancient Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle knew it was true, and modern research bears it out – altruistic behaviours are associated with greater wellbeing, health and longevity. In short, we feel good when we do good.
And interestingly, people who feel good are more creative, more open to learning, have better psychological and physical resilience, less stress, anger, anxiety and depression, and more gratitude, empathy and compassion. It might sound trite and cheesy, but the happiness that comes from doing good for others seems to last longer and feel deeper.
Every parent wants happy kids. It’s the most common answer I receive to the question, “What do you want most for your children?”
But how many of us knew that if you want kids to be happy, you should teach them to be kind?
Moreover, studies highlight that our kids actually want to be kind. They know it makes them happy! Research shows that from as young as 14 months old, kids consistently want to help others achieve individual goals and cooperate with others to achieve shared goals. This desire to help is something they’re born with – even that child of yours who doesn’t seem to want to help anyone!
In fact, a recent landmark study shows even very young kids find helpful and kind acts to be intrinsically rewarding. In this study, toddlers under the age of two exhibited greater happiness when they gave treats to others, compared to when they received treats themselves.
In other words, they want to help because they feel good when they do.
Teaching Our Kids to Do Good
Bottom line, kids want to help, and it makes them feel great. So, it’s our job to help fulfil this natural inclination by guiding them to age-appropriate opportunities to do so.
Here are 5 ways to do just that:
- Be a good role model. Kids learn to be helpful and kind from you.
- Perform small acts of kindness. You don’t have to run out and paint someone’s house or mow their lawn for a year – although you can. Being kind, saying something nice, helping tidy up; these small acts are just as powerful and effective.
- Make helping a family project. Get your kids involved when you take a meal to a family who have just had a new baby or visit a sick friend in the hospital.
- Be a good neighbour. In other words, help your kids learn to keep an eye on others, whether it really is your neighbour, or a boy on the soccer team. Teaching your kids to notice what’s going on in the lives of people in their community teaches awareness and empathy.
- Be grateful. Expressing gratitude is one of the best ways to do good. In fact, nothing can improve your life (and the life of others) like gratitude.
Doing good is what makes us human. It lifts the burdens from others and lifts us by activating the joyful part of the brain. And teaching our kids to do good is the best way to help them have lasting ‘feel good’ feelings. Of course, you should eat cake too. But sharing it with a friend is even better.
Article supplied with thanks to Happy Families.
About the Author: A sought after public speaker and author, and former radio broadcaster, Justin has a psychology degree from the University of Queensland and a PhD in psychology from the University of Wollongong.