It’s Time to Redefine Happiness for Children in 2022

Every time I see an email headline with “Happy New Year!” from the newsletters I subscribe to it falls flat. Who is truly happy after what has transpired over the last year? “Happy New Year” seems like a tall order right now, and I think it’s beneficial to accept and acknowledge that reality rather than live in denial. As a mom I am tired of putting on the charade that life is always happy, and I think we do our children a disservice by pretending everything is peachy when it’s not.

“When we are inauthentic or dishonest with children they don’t doubt the adults, they doubt themselves.”

Don’t get me wrong, I said “Happy New Year” to multiple people over the last week, but every time I said it something felt off. Did you feel that way too? I realize it is a courteous thing to say, and I am not judging anyone who says it, but I do want to offer my thoughts about what happiness looks like in 2022 after reflecting on the phrase this morning.

Yes, we had lots of happy moments in 2021, and I know we will have more in 2022, that’s how life works in my opinion. It’s about 50% comfortable and 50% uncomfortable regardless of our circumstances, but do I believe a blanket statement like “Happy New Year” is fitting for me to say right now? No. I feel like we have way too much to worry about and a lot of work to do before people will feel safe enough to resonate with a phrase like Happy New Year.

I am sorry if that is depressing or not what you want to hear, but denying it just doesn’t feel right to me in my bones.

“When we live in denial and invalidate the truth of our feelings for ourselves and our children, we lose trust and credibility and create shame. Children feel the cognitive dissonance between what we say and how we feel.”

I recently read a quote that said, “to be an adult in 2022 is to be a little bit sad all the time,” and it struck me as so true. It seems like wishing you a Happy New Year would be just more of the same fake bullsh*t, so instead, I’m going to say:

“I wish you a gentle new year.” “I wish you a safe new year.” “I wish you a stable new year.”

Happy seems way too big of a leap to me right now, and that’s ok. We need to share this type of authenticity with children as well. If adults expect children to be happy when their world is in flux, it creates mental confusion and shame for their uncomfortable feelings. In the new year, I encourage you to acknowledge to your family that it’s not about trying to be happy right now, it’s about creating moments of safety, acceptance, and calm. And what is happiness anyway?

I always thought “happy” was a destination I was going to reach until the pandemic happened and now I realize I was confusing happy with intense moments of awe and exhilaration that were never meant to be sustainable over time. I define happiness differently now, and the pressure I’ve always felt to be happy has receded. What is happiness in a pandemic world? To me, it’s a peaceful mind, feeling safe in my everyday life, and being connected with people I trust.

What if we taught our children that constant happiness isn’t the goal in life? What if we made the goal more realistic by teaching them that life is often painful, and it’s completely normal and expected to feel anxious and sad in the world we live in? I do understand how unnatural this idea feels, I am a mom. It seems counterintuitive and hard to accept that we brought children into a life that will cause them pain, but in the long run, acknowledging these truths normalizes fear, distress, and sadness which reduces unnecessary suffering for our children.

Steps to Redefine Happiness for Children

Redefining happiness for our children can take the pressure off of them to be happy all the time, and in doing so they will experience more moments of peace overall, not less.

If you would like to learn more about increasing the emotional well-being of children and families, please join us in the private Facebook group, Emotiminds. I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic over there!

Other articles that might interest you:

How Our Emotional Wounds Sabotage Our Parenting and What We Can Do About It

Why Transitions are Tough for Children Impacted by Trauma & What to Do About It

Stopping the Cycle of Intergenerational Trauma – A Bottom Up Approach

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