Chances are when you were growing up you heard a lot of advice coming from a lot of people. Repeatedly. Things like “Sit up straight”, “Say please”, “Say thank you”, and my personal favorite, “Be good.” When you think about it, nobody ever really teaches us or asks us to “Be kind.” Our school system is set up to teach us what would seem to be all the academic necessities of life: Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, Geography, Science, History... Yet most - if not all - of us have never had any formalized education in the one singular thing that makes or breaks our success in life: How to be happy.
When I became a mother for the first time a few years ago, a friend asked me what I would want most for my son in life. After thinking about it, I surprised myself with this reply: “I want him to be healthy, independent, and kind.” Many people (myself included before I actually answered) would probably have answered "to be happy."
Universal fact: It’s the quest for happiness that is an important and natural goal for everyone, not kindness. And with good reason! Research has shown that the ability to be happy and content with life plays a central role in positive mental health. So it’s pretty understandable why most of us are looking for ways to increase that feeling as much as we possibly can.
So......what makes a person happy??
And there it is, the million-dollar question. It is only recently that we have been asking it of ourselves, along with how we can become happier. Positive psychology is the first approach to our personal development and well being that focuses on how we can flourish in our own skin. It emphasizes our individual strengths and how we can feel more fulfilled by the talents and gifts we already possess, instead of focusing on our weaknesses and shortfalls. In short, it looks at the ‘how’ of happiness. Older approaches to mental wellness focused on identifying abnormal behavior and attempting to cure it. We’ve come a long way since then!
This is Part I in a series of posts on Kindness and its enormous influence on our ability to be happy. In Part II, I'll be discussing exactly what determines our own individual level of happiness...and more importantly, what we can do to change it!