Family, Self

6 Ways To Teach Happiness To Teens

Happiness … is it a losing battle for teens? Do we need to just wait it out and hope that someday our teens grow out of their grumpy, crabby, irritable, short tempered stage? Doesn't it seem that they live their lives in a persistent state of unhappy?

We know that happier people live longer, remain disease free longer and generally enjoy life more completely. How can we share this wisdom with teens in our lives? How can we model happiness? How can we instill resiliency in our teens? How can we be sure they grow from their experiences and not get stuck or traumatized from their experiences?

Here are six ways to teach happiness to your teen along with the bonus of finding your own happiness along the way!

 1. Curiosity.

In a time of stress, teach your teen to react with interest or curiosity instead of fear or anger. Teens learn pretty quickly that life hurts sometimes. The next step is often forgotten. Yes it hurts, but what will change this hurt? How can this be different? How can I take something away from this pain? We need to inspire our kids to find a solution, find a reason and find a curiosity to change. We need to go beyond, "it hurts and that stinks".

Supposedly time heals all wounds, but time and a conscience effort to find the motivation to use the hurt in a productive way is how we teach happiness. This is not to say teens will find happiness every day, and sadly there will be brutal, awful hurts that it will be hard for even the happiest of persons to see the silver lining. But it is a suggestion for handling the small crisis of being a teen along the way, so that happiness can set down some roots and gain strength for the big life events.

 2. Social connectedness predicts happiness.

Teens generally seek social connectedness, but may need reminders of what a true connection is. Teens may have 500 friends online, but still feel lonely. Teens may sort through 100's of tweets a day, but still not feel like they really know someone. They may take unlimited texting to a whole new level, but still not have a meaningful conversation for days.

Our job as parents is to keep teaching them about meaningful connections. Encourage them to have face to face time with friends. Encourage them to pick up the telephone and call their friend instead of covering the day’s events in short texts to one another. Encourage your teen to meet each other for coffee or ice cream and put their phones away for a whole hour.

Do the same for yourself. Instead of posting an update on Facebook, call your friend and have a ten minute conversation, or plan a lunch with a colleague or a walk with a neighbor you enjoy. The quality of conversation and the intensity of that friendship will improve. And in turn, you will be more connected and feel happier. This generation of teens may not ever know the connections of a true friendship, if we do not teach them the importance of making that face to face, electronic free time together happen. 

 3. Teach and Believe in Gratitude.

Talk with your teen about gratitude. Not in terms of "you should be happy with what you have", or "you have no idea how easy you have it these days". Ask questions instead. What friend do you trust the most? Who has your back at school?  Who do you trust? Who do you admire?  Who has a life you would like to have someday?

Perhaps instead of groundings or taking away cell phone or car privileges, why not a letter of gratitude to someone in their life? Have them write a sincere, honest, grateful letter, just because. It will build a connection between your teen and that person. It also forces them to stop and think about the relationships and people they do have in their lives.

Why not ask your teen to jot down one thing they are grateful for each day on a bulletin board or wipe board in a common area of the house? And you do the same. Believing in gratitude and the power it has to influence your happiness will translate to your teens. They will learn by hearing, seeing, feeling and knowing gratitude as a daily occurrence.

 4. Volunteerism and Good Deeds

Many high schools are now requiring teens to participate in a set number of volunteer hours. What a great message to send to teens! It's telling teens they matter, they have something to share and they have the capacity to influence other people in amazing ways! Build this idea into your family.

Volunteer together, do good deeds, act kindly towards neighbors or others in your lives. Show your teens from early on that helping others feels good. Nothing is needed in return because your pride and satisfaction in helping others is more than any money can measure. Find ways to volunteer socially. Invite your teen's friends to come too.

Be involved in an organization that routinely volunteers and does good deeds. Your teens will be connected with others and the positive energy will be contagious. If you are having trouble convincing your teen that volunteerism is a good idea, feel free to link the number of hours they volunteer to the number of hours they can use the car, or dollar amount deducted from their cell phone bill. It's not bribery, just encouragement to do what you know they need : )

 5. Religion and Spirituality mean two very different things.

You can have one or the other, both or neither. Having religion or feeling spirituality are well documented factors to feeling a connection to the world, other people or a higher purpose. A connection can be to other people who believe what you believe, other people who gather in the same place, in the same way or for the same purpose. Or a connection can be to a higher power or energy. Either way, spirituality and religion help people make connections. A connection to meaning leads to greater happiness.

Show your teens the many ways they can become connected through religion or spirituality. Show them a place (church, synagogue, mosque, a special tree, a yoga class, somewhere outdoors, Sunday morning at Starbucks enjoying a few moments of peace) where you feel at peace and  show them the connections that are made. Help them see and feel the connections. Be a part of your spiritual and religious life. It is harder and harder to find time in our fast paced world, but show them what matters to you and help them find something that matters to them.

 6. Eat, Sleep, And Exercise!

The very foundation of good mental health comes down to committing to three very basic human needs. Eat, sleep and exercise. The benefits of keeping these three needs in healthy, working order has shown time and time again to lead to reduced feelings of depression, lessened anxiety and greater happiness.

  • Teens need to eat regularly. They do not need to worry about gaining muscle or losing weight. Just ask yourself if they are they eating regularly? Are they eating relatively healthy? Are they getting their metabolism up and running in the morning by eating and are they maintaining that energy throughout the day? Teens are growing and facing stressors every single day. They need adequate nutrition to keep up with their bodies needs. Are they drinking too much caffeine? Are they obsessed with energy drinks? Both will interfere with their body's ability to regulate mood. Three meals a day or six small meals a day, is not the point. Find a healthy eating pattern that works for your teen and help them commit to that pattern because they know they feel better when they are on track!
  • Sleep, sleep and more sleep! Teens need more sleep than they are getting. Nine to ten hours a night! Read more here about sleep and teens. Teach your teens the value of a good, quality sleep. Help them figure out what environment is most supportive for their sleep. A dark, quiet space, free of distractions is a great starting point. Get their cell phones out of their hands at bedtime. Have them leave the cell phone away from their sleep space so they are not tempted to be on their phones checking on last thing or responding to one last text. Lead by example and get yourself to sleep on time and without distractions. Sleep is an invaluable gift to give your kids. Healthy sleep habits as they head off to college or life can make the difference in your young adult's happiness and satisfaction in life.
  • Exercise. Hmm. Couldn't we all stand to do more of this? And who doesn't feel better after a brisk walk or a peaceful run? Yet, it seems to be the first thing to go when life gets busy. Get your teen involved in regular daily exercise. Hopefully it's a sport or club they love and this is the highlight of their day. If it is not, show them the value of walking the dog every day, or mastering yoga in the living room on Wii, or sign your whole family up for a festive 5K or take weekend hikes to new places. Find ways for everyone to be active. It will vastly improve the whole family's happiness.

Happiness can be learned. Give your teens the right tools for learning this lifelong skill of finding happiness as they move through life!