How to Raise Joyful Kids by Alyssa Shaffer, author The Happiness Formula (Book Excerpt)

Excerpted from The Happiness Formula: Simple Habits for a More Joyful Life by Alyssa Shaffer, published March 2020 by Centennial Books.


There Are Steps You Can Take To Make Sure Your Children Always Look On The Sunny Side

Did you know that happiness can be learned? “Think of happiness as a set of skills rather than an inborn personality trait,” Christine Carter, the author of Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents, has said. Of course, some children have a more cheerful disposition; others are a little grouchier. But she encourages parents to consider happiness to be like learning a language: “Some kids are going to be good at picking it up quickly, others are going to struggle. But we all need to be taught the basic grammar. And we all need to practice that grammar to become fluent.”


Often kids focus on their own needs rather than on helping others, but in the long run that won’t make them happy. “We think that happiness comes about because you get things for yourself,” according to Richard Ryan, a psychologist at the University of Rochester. But “it turns out that…giving gets you more,” he adds. According to a study, the more people participated in meaningful activities, like helping others, the happier they were. Harvard psychologist Richard Weissbourd has offered the following recommendations for raising kind children: Make caring for others a priority by stressing kindness over happiness, provide opportunities for children to practice caring and gratitude, expand your child’s circle of concern to more than just a small group of friends and family and be a strong moral role model, leading by example.


Helping your child to look on the bright side can make navigating the tough teen years easier. Australian researchers found the more optimistic a group of 12- to 13-year-olds were, the less likely they were to become depressed. But even if your kid isn’t naturally positive, he or she can learn to be. When a problem arises, encourage your child to recognize the issue and think about what caused it, as well as how he or she could improve the situation, Martin Seligman, director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, has reported. Also, keep in mind that your child will pick up on your positive outlook, so rather than complaining that the line in the grocery store is too long, try saying, “This line is moving so fast, we’ll be out of here in no time!”


Encouraging your child to do his or her best is one thing; focusing on it to the exception of everything else is another. Psychologists say it’s more important to praise children for their effort and hard work than for their intelligence or skill. Research by Stanford University psychologist Caroline Dweck has found that when children were praised for their intelligence in solving a puzzle, they were less willing to take on a harder task; those who were given positive feedback for working hard most often opted to attempt a more challenging task.

“They feel smart when they are working on something really difficult and making progress,” says Dweck. And realizing that it’s normal to not always be perfect is an essential skill to achieving happiness. “We need to teach children that it is totally okay to make mistakes—we often learn life’s best lessons when we make mistakes,” Carter has said. “Sometimes a B+ is a cause for celebration.”


One of the biggest signs of future success is self-discipline—the ability to delay gratification. A well-known study looked at how preschoolers reacted if they were given the choice to eat one marshmallow immediately or two if they waited 15 minutes. Those who were able to wait out the time and get twice the reward statistically had a higher level of success and happiness decades later. Researchers say you can help your children develop more willpower by focusing on the reward ahead or distracting them by focusing on something else. Learning self-discipline can also help kids better handle frustration and stress.


Studies show that depression among parents (especially moms) can significantly impact children at all ages. A research roundup published in Pediatrics and Child Health found maternal depression can make it difficult for newborns to bond, which could lead them to become more anxious or angrier and develop cognitive difficulties. Toddlers and preschoolers who have a depressed parent may be more aggressive and destructive, and less likely to engage in creative play. And school-age children of depressed mothers are at a higher risk of depression and anxiety disorders, as well as ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). If you feel like you may be suffering from even mild depression, it’s important to get help (for more details, see “When It’s More Than Just Sadness,” page 35). Remember that kids are very resilient, and any action you take to help yourself will also help them. The happier you are, the happier your children will be.


Alyssa Shaffer appreciates what it takes to live a healthier, happier, more balanced life. A longtime writer and editor who specializes in health, nutrition and fitness, she is the author of four best-selling books on these topics. She is the former executive editor of Muscle & Fitness Hers and fitness director for Fitness magazine and has written for dozens of consumer print magazines and websites. Alyssa lives and works in New York City with her husband, teenage twins, and a very sweet dog who helps alleviate stress with every belly rub. Visit


Tags: , , , , , , ,