Teaching Kids To Choose Happiness

My daugh­ter and my three grand­chil­dren were vis­it­ing recently and I sug­gested that we take the dogs and walk over to see the new cabin our neigh­bor was build­ing just up the road. Every­one was enthu­si­as­tic about going except for my youngest grand­son who just turned four. He was imme­di­ately resis­tant. It was too hot, he said. His head hurt, and he needed his mama to carry him … he drew up his face into a scowl, and stub­bornly drug his feet along while whin­ing loudly in protest. He real­ized he had been out­voted and there­fore had no choice except to come along, because, as I explained briefly to him, you are too young to be left behind on your own, and we are all going.” He didn’t like it though, and he whined and clung to his mother’s leg, beg­ging to be carried.

Now, mind you, I’ve watched this lit­tle boy run up and down our five acre yard, energy unabated, chas­ing after the dogs and “big kids” with­out a thought, much less com­plaint, about not being able to han­dle it. I knew bet­ter than to fall for the “I’m-too-little-to-walk-on-my-own” story that he was con­jur­ing up for us.

Know­ing his true capa­bil­i­ties allowed me to be real­is­tic in my expec­ta­tion of him and to remain lov­ingly, amus­edly, detached from his complaints.

Instead of giv­ing into his baby act, I sug­gested to him in matter-of-fact tones that he was cer­tainly old enough and big enough to walk on his own, and that he could choose whose hand he would hold as we walked along, mine or his mama’s. At that sug­ges­tion, he quickly reached for his mother’s hand, and started to walk, although he con­tin­ued to sulk and whine.

He com­plained most of the way but when the “tree­house cabin” came in sight he quickly “for­got” his unhap­pi­ness and ran excit­edly off with his older sib­lings to explore the site. They climbed ener­get­i­cally in and over rocks and hills to explore the new ter­ri­tory. All of his prior weari­ness for­got­ten, my lit­tle trooper quickly remem­bered his part when it came time to head back to the house and he turned back into his prior unhappy lit­tle self.

This time I took his hand. He held loosely to the fin­ger of my right hand, while I held the leash of one of the dogs in the other hand, and we moved along at his resis­tant pace, the dog and I, as I spoke patiently to him about his choice to be happy.

It went some­thing like this: “Sweet­heart, I under­stand you do not like to have to walk with us right now, I know what it’s like to not like the way things are. But the truth is — you don’t have a choice about stay­ing here with me … but you DO have a choice about whether you will be happy or unhappy. Choos­ing to be unhappy makes your head hurt and it keeps you from hav­ing a good time. How­ever, I want you to know that you can choose to be happy even though you don’t like what’s hap­pen­ing. It is up to you — you choose. I won’t be mad at you if you choose to be unhappy because I’ve done it many times myself.”

He con­tin­ued to walk along­side me but con­tin­ued to scowl and whim­per espe­cially when we got close enough to his mother and he thought he might get her atten­tion. (It appeared obvi­ous that there was some part of him that was truly con­vinced that if he was unhappy long enough mama would fix it for him.)

Finally, we got to the gate that leads up to the house. I encour­aged my daugh­ter and the other chil­dren to go on ahead with­out us, say­ing, “Yall go on, we’ll hang out here at the gate and water the flow­ers…” and so they headed to the house. My grand­son responded in loud protest as if he couldn’t believe that his mother and sib­lings were going to leave with­out him. None of them offered him a res­cue, how­ever. His mother saun­tered on with­out look­ing back: she knew her lit­tle one was in safe hands.

I let the dog off the leash and walked over to turn on the water­ing hose. Water­ing the flow­ers around the place is one of my favorite tasks and I started hum­ming lightly at the pure delight of a breezy, sunny morn­ing and the chance to pause and enjoy the life of nature here on this beau­ti­ful moun­tain. Mean­while my grand­son stood behind me, immo­bile, but whin­ing softly in habit­ual protest.

Again, as an observer with no need to force him to be dif­fer­ent, and yet, with no need to give into his unhappy story, I was allowed to appre­ci­ate this sacred moment that I was being given with my grand­son. I did not feel impa­tient or resent­ful with this strong-minded lit­tle sol­dier. I did not feel com­pelled to fix it for him by try­ing to make him feel bet­ter , nor did I feel any need to give in to his demands, or to “dis­ci­pline” him for being resis­tant. “Thank you Daniel,” I said inwardly to my stal­wart hus­band, “for being such a way-shower for me when it comes to rais­ing kids.” Feel­ing grat­i­tude for my stal­wart hus­band, I smiled at my stub­born grand­son and relaxed.

I thought about Daniel’s response when­ever he is asked how it is that he is able to remain so calm and level-headed with even the most demand­ing sorts of kids (we work with chil­dren from all kinds of fam­i­lies). He says, “I sim­ply remem­ber that every moment with a child is a teach­ing moment.” This atti­tude exem­pli­fies observer consciousness.

When we are in observer con­scious­ness we are able to receive the gifts that each moment offers us and to take advan­tage of the many oppor­tu­ni­ties pre­sented to us towards deep­en­ing our under­stand­ing of the prin­ci­ples of Real­ity and Life. I rec­og­nized this moment with my grand­son as such a moment — as a pre­cious and valu­able oppor­tu­nity to empower him with the under­stand­ing that he can choose his own degree of hap­pi­ness, rather than allow him to go on think­ing (as most of us do) that our hap­pi­ness is up to some­one else giv­ing us what we want.

Finally, I turned to my tena­cious lit­tle bull­dog of a fella, and got down on eye-level with him, “Sweetie, you can be unhappy as long as you need to be, I under­stand. How­ever I do want you to know that you can choose dif­fer­ent. You can choose to be happy. And to help you learn about that I’ve decided that we are going to stay here in this great spot and water flow­ers until you are ready to choose hap­pi­ness.” And then I sim­ply returned to water­ing and weed­ing the flow­ers, hum­ming and feel­ing the peace that is always avail­able to us just beneath the level of resistance.

After another few min­utes of con­tin­u­ing to whim­per my grand­son became abruptly quiet. I looked over my shoul­der to see what had hap­pened and saw him stand­ing there with a look on his pre­cious lit­tle face that I will never for­get. It was as if he had just arrived at a new and mar­velous place. He stood there look­ing around him as if he had just awak­ened from an unhappy sleep, and was wide-eyed in won­der at the world he had awak­ened to find him­self in. He stood, look­ing around with awe writ­ten all over his now radi­ant lit­tle face, no doubt, because he was see­ing, prob­a­bly for the first time. all the won­der, diver­sity, and vibrant alive­ness of life sur­round­ing him.

When he glanced my way I quickly held out the water hose and asked, “Would you like to water the flowers?”

Jes,” he replied.

From that moment on and for the remain­der of the day he was one seri­ously happy lit­tle boy!

He watered flow­ers, played in the water, and when his big brother showed up a few min­utes later, my pre­cious lit­tle convert-to-happiness effer­vesced about the bright yel­low but­ter­fly he had spot­ted, and about how big he was now because he could water flow­ers, and on and on … Through­out the rest of the day he main­tained high spir­its, rev­el­ing in the adven­tures of a day on the moun­tain. And every once in a while he would, from out of nowhere, march up to me and say, “Gr’na, I’m a happy boy.”

I smiled then, and I smile now, just to think that per­haps yet another of our pre­cious lit­tle ones received a les­son with an essen­tial key that holds the poten­tial to deliver a life­time of happiness.

What­ever your life cir­cum­stances may be, may you find, even in their midst, the abid­ing hap­pi­ness that peace offers.



  1. Lynne says

    Hi Rebecca, Joyce con­tacted me about you as well … it sounds like we would be a great match! I love the name of your show, “Real­ity Spir­i­tu­al­ity,” — let’s set a date! :) Thanks for reach­ing out to me. Blessings,

  2. Rebecca L Norrington says

    Hi Lynne,

    Joyce Shafer was inspired to share her con­nec­tion with you with me…like energy attracts like energy…I LOVE LOVE LOVE your sto­ries and videos. I host an online radio show “Real­ity Spir­i­tu­al­ity” and you would be a per­fect guest…if that feels good to you! Let me know at your convenience!

    Sent with LOVE and Uni­ver­sal Grat­i­tude,
    Rebecca L N

  3. Carisa says

    Such a won­der­ful story. And such a won­der­ful web­site. I was referred to you by a friend and have found your infor­ma­tion to be SO help­ful. I told my mom about it and when she expressed inter­est, I directed her to your site too. I’m hop­ing that she and I will be able to talk to each other about the ways we get pulled into the tri­an­gle. But even if I never talk to her more about this, I am grate­ful for what I’ve read. Yes, hap­pi­ness is a choice! Thank you!

    • Lynne says

      Hi Carisa, Who knows what is pos­si­ble once two peo­ple who have been alien­ated from one another begin to shift the way they see the world? Here’s some­thing I’ve found to be true … always … in fact — I’ve not meet any­one yet who can resist love for long — not even your mother, I’m bet­ting! 😉 If you decide to take respon­si­bil­ity for your hap­pi­ness by choos­ing it, then you will be nat­u­rally happy & lov­ing with her — and it’s pos­si­ble that she might actu­ally be so appre­cia­tive she will start enjoy­ing you too — Many times I have seen this seem­ingly impos­si­ble thing take place between two peo­ple (includ­ing myself) who have bar­ri­ers between them. As we drop our story about oth­ers, and the resent­ment that goes with it, they are free to respond to us in often totally sur­pris­ing & delight­ful ways. :) Blessings,

  4. says

    So incred­i­bly timely. Hav­ing expe­ri­enced a very sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion with an older child this after­noon, I was pleased to find your words echo­ing the advice I attempted to impart upon the par­tic­u­lar indi­vid­ual. But deeper than that is the notion that I too have a choice — and that is the choice to be in “observer con­scious­ness”. Very free­ing, as one does not need to be pulled into another’s drama. As I sit to write a clin­i­cal note, I will take care to see what gifts I was given as a result of the expe­ri­ence. Thank you.

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