What is the one thing that we all probably want for our children? Love, success, wealth etc etc? I wouldn’t mind betting that for most of us it would be happiness. I know that is certainly one of the top wishes I had for my children when they were younger. I had a blissfully happy childhood and wanted them to have that too. Amongst other things I wanted them to have the happy upbringing I had enjoyed and to go on to lead happy, contented lives. Happy memories of my early childhood included family days out, meals at home around the table, jolly family holidays, time by myself making up stories and poems in my own little bubble and fun playtimes with friends laughing and giggling in the garden and with my best friends and somehow I wanted to replicate that for my children.
I remember talking to my Mother about happiness and she said that when my brother and I were born she promised herself that she would always wear a smile and that we would never hear her and my Father argue, and to be honest that pretty much maps my memories from those early days. With this in mind I set out with similar values and principles although I admit it wasn’t as easy as it would have appeared bringing up four children pretty much singlehandedly as their father was often abroad during the weeks. Still I tried and relished the time I had with them but then disaster struck.
In 2009 my marriage fell to pieces. I had had no idea that it was even on the rocks let alone nearing the end of its life and was devastated. Suddenly my ideals came crashing down around me and my whole world seemed engulfed in a pit of despair. Not really the happy scenario that I was looking for. The children were struck with grief having shared in my “it will never happen to us” bubble that was we thought was marital bliss. Their tears broke my heart and their upset paralysed my soul. But in the coming months after the news broke something amazing happened.
From the depths of our agony and upset, a phoenix rose from the ashes and as we started to rebuild our lives, and slowly and surely we all started to realise how much happier we were. Looking back now, I’m not really sure whether any of us really knew what happiness was until then. It wasn’t something that could be wrapped up in paper and handed out but was something that we grew organically in our family unit. It was like the sun started shining on the inside and with that radiation the clouds started to part. We at last became aware of a fundamental principal of happiness and that was that it comes from inside.
Lesson one was therefore that happiness, is not something you can give your children. It’s something that they develop themselves. Mollycoddling them and giving them “things” to make them happy does not have longevity. “Things” merely satisfy the “want” in us but they don’t guarantee to eternally switch on the “like” and they certainly don’t buy true happiness. It’s just not possible to get or to give a “happiness fix” with such measures.
For us we learnt that happiness was a state that was achieved through connections that we made. A new commitment to each other had evolved and it had been predicated by realising that feeling the hurt, the anger, the disappointment, the sadness and the pain had hardwired coping mechanisms in each of us and developed the intrinsic muscle of resilience. Life is full of hard knocks but knowing how to cope with them and their associated negative emotions stops their devastating effects.
Next we had seen how damaging it is to try and hold the remote control on another person’s mood and learnt importantly how crucial it is to take full responsibility for our own. Accepting that our individual states could be infectious, made us realise how important it was to work towards happiness in ourselves and develop self-awareness. This challenged our perceptions and our thoughts so that we each started to live our lives centred on our own dreams and aspirations with courage to work towards our own goals with confidence and determination. As each of us became more focussed on what was important to each of us individually, we all grew happier. We could celebrate our strengths and collaborate on our weaknesses building on the connections mentioned earlier in harmony and in peace.
This mutual respect and teamwork cemented these connections; those we had with each other and with other family and friends. It is well known that a child that knows their place in terms of their relationships sits on a stable and secure platform and this was definitely the case in our scenario. Knowing who to trust and who was reliable established such a platform from which we developed understanding that we were loved, understood and acknowledged in the world once again, something that the divorce process could otherwise, have so savagely devoured.
Finally, we manifested mastery of our lives which gave us each purpose. Learning new skills to survive in our new world opened up more pathways to happiness than we could have imagined. Having lost everything, the general consensus of opinion that we met was that we would somehow be bitter and full of recrimination, but instead we became much more grateful for even the smallest things in life and that gratitude magnified our sense of contentment and happiness. Being a team suddenly mattered and each and every member was valued for their contribution to the team increasing the happy stakes even further.
We still have nothing of material value. I don’t have good health and the children don’t have any mod-cons, bursting wardrobes, electrical gadgets, designer shoes and the other trappings of 21st century life. But what we do have is an innate happiness – one that is intrinsic to us both as unique individuals and as a collective family unit. It surpasses contentment, even peace and calm, and overcomes even the darkest storm clouds.
As the Dalai Lama XIV says “Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.” or in the words of Mahatma Gandhi ““Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” or even to quote Abraham Lincoln ““People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
So what is happiness? …. well that’s something that only you will really know but we pray that when you do have an inkling each of you and your children will understand this in their hearts.