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Free Happiness for Your Kids!

by April Serock

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Most parents' deepest wish is for their children to be happy, and many parents will go to any lengths to make that happen. Parents do any amount of nice things for their children, such as taking them on vacations, buying toys and video games for them, and surprising them with pancake breakfasts and movie nights.

But according to a "Kindness Counts" study by researchers from the University of British Columbia and The University of California, Riverside, many parents are going about trying to make kids happy in the wrong way. Parents don't make kids happy by doing things for them. Kids make themselves happy by doing nice things for others.

In fact, being kind doesn't only make kids happier, but it also makes kids more popular. The "Kindness Counts" study also found that kids who performed three kind acts per week averaged 1.5 more friends by the end of the study period than they had when the study began.

So how can you use this information to set your kids up for present and future happiness? It's easy and free. Just pick one or more of the ideas from the list below and watch as your children's happiness grows.

Volunteer. A large body of scientific research supports the idea that volunteering has positive benefits on both physical and mental health. It can be difficult to find formal volunteer opportunities for kids under the age of 16, so consider volunteering as a family for roadside cleanups, park maintenance, community dinners, etc. Younger kids can also get involved with groups like scouting or church youth groups that offer volunteer opportunities. Older kids can get volunteer experience in more formal settings like hospitals, animal shelters, or soup kitchens.

Watch others be nice. One of the more interesting findings of kindness research is that just the act of watching someone be kind can increase our feelings of happiness. According to Dr. Steve Taylor of the website Psychology Today, watching kind acts can even lead to feelings of elation in the witness. So make kindness-spotting a family habit. Point out examples of people being nice on the news, on television, or in real-life. You can also browse kindness websites like to find videos of people performing random acts of kindness for others. On family movie nights, choose films about people doing good for others, and the warm-fuzzies you get will be even more satisfying than that big bowl of buttery popcorn.

If circumstances have put your family in debt, find out how to conquer your debt by creating a plan personalized to your family's budget and lifestyle.

Start a family kindness jar. Fill an empty jar with slips of paper listing simple kind acts that family members can do for one another. Brainstorm ideas together as a family and allow each family member to add ideas. If you run out of ideas, search the internet. Websites like Pinterest have hundreds of easy, free, but awesome random acts of kindness to try. Then the next time your kids complain, "There's nothing to do," you can reply, "Do something nice!"

Pay it forward and then some. Institute a family policy that whenever someone does something nice for you, you do something nice for two others. You can also set family guidelines that encourage giving two toys or pieces of clothing to charity for each new item received. Not only will you be helping those in need, but also this practice helps to reinforce the concept that money does not buy happiness.

If we truly want our children to be happy, all the fancy presents or expensive excursions in the world won't work long-term. Instead, happiness can be found in making others happy. The best thing we can do to help our children be happy for life is teach them to be kind. After all, as James M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan wrote, "Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves."

Reviewed September 2017

Take the Next Step:

  • Volunteering as a family is something special you can all do together. Here are 12 ways to help others without spending any money.
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