Raise a Child Who Loves Life

Can you actually teach your kid to laugh often, be an optimist, and enjoy every day? Research says yes.
happy child

Ronald Arden

After a family trip in Florida, I'm suddenly stranded with my 3-year-old son at the airport while a blizzard tears through the Northeast. Joined by hundreds of frustrated families, I'm pretty sure we're all feeling caged and miserable. Well, almost all of us. Gabe seems to be having the time of his life. There's so much to do: enlisting new buddies in a game of hide-under-the-seats, "reading" the same picture books (for the gazillionth time), eating the junk food I so rarely allow him, and the ultimate thrill -- sleeping on the floor. Wow. Fifteen hours later, we're finally boarding the plane when Gabe grabs my hand and asks, "Mom, what day is this?" "Wednesday," I sigh wearily. "Well, let's do this again next Wednesday!"

Sure, it's great to have a kid with an upbeat attitude -- but believe me, I'm not giving myself a Mother-of-the-Year award. I tend to think he was born on the sunny side; there's even research to suggest it. Scientists are zeroing in on the possibility that a single gene could be responsible for making some people naturally positive and others pessimistic. It probably involves the production of serotonin, the brain chemical that's known to influence moods. Nevertheless, scientists estimate that only 50 percent of an upbeat attitude is genetic. "Happiness is really a wide range of positive emotions that are more learned behavior than inborn traits," says Christine Carter, Ph.D., executive director of the Greater Good Science Center, in Berkeley, California. "Our children develop their habits of thinking, feeling, and behaving based on what we teach them about the world, their relationships, and our expectations."

That's why it doesn't make much difference whether your child was born a Winnie the Pooh or an Eeyore. Boosting optimism, or turning a natural grump into a giggler, isn't the goal. "It's deep-down, everlasting happiness we're after," says Aaron Cooper, Ph.D., coauthor of I Just Want My Kids to Be Happy!

Who wouldn't want their children to have a firm foundation of contentment so they can learn to roll with the punches, enjoy what they have, and make the best of any situation? Inspired to find the roots of happiness, I spoke to experts as well as parents who say their children are truly content. I discovered that there are five keys to helping your kids stay in the bliss zone.

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