The Unlikely Source of Happiness for Children and Adults7 min read

In this time of innovation, abundance, and a voluminous amount of personal development and fulfillment messages, why are suicide, addiction, abuse and depression rates increasing? People have more things than ever before, yet there seems to be less happiness. Why has happiness decreased? What is the source of true happiness? The answers may be surprising.

Children who learn happiness during childhood through regular family life are apt to find and cultivate happiness during adulthood no matter what circumstances surround them.

The family is the foundational source of a life of happiness. Many will argue that God is the main source of all happiness; and that is true. The family as the foundation to happiness is in complete agreement with this truth. God instituted families and sent every person to a family. Families were designed with training children and good people in mind. Family is intended to be the environment and example of love, peace, purpose, goodness and happiness. If the family is properly functioning, then it will point its members’ hearts toward God’s laws and principles — and ultimately to happiness.

These three myths and truths that follow explain why happiness is often misunderstood and not found, and how to create an environment for happiness in our homes right now, when we need it most.

Myth 1: Comfort Comes from a Store

A couple of years ago during a family camping trip, my children found an old tree stump while playing with their cousins. For multiple days they built structures on and around this old stump. They made intricate houses, complete with yards. They made fences out of sticks, pine needles, leaves and grass. They used rocks for miniature people. In no time one tree stump had turned into a magical, miniature neighborhood full of delight and wonder.

The children were happy. They were actually in a state of bliss, and it was completely free.

Throughout the history of the world there have been times of material comforts and times of material shortages. After times of hard work to provide for basic needs, material comforts easily become obsessions and illusions. People think that the bigger home, the nicer car, or the more filled toy box provide happiness. This is a modern social myth.

Those who believe and follow the material comfort path to happiness are victims of environment who will not feel the sweetness of true lasting happiness. Samuel Smiles said, “Prosperity and success of themselves do not confer happiness…” In fact, multiple wealthy and great ancient world leaders calculated their happiness and depressingly found that they had experienced only 5 or 14 days of true happiness throughout their lives.

Happiness isn’t complex. It isn’t a list of material possessions. Real happiness is rooted in the commonplace.

Truth 1: Contentment Brings Joy

My children and their cousins were content to play with what they had around them. They maneuvered and constructed with common things. Nothing had to be purchased, yet fulfillment and joy was found. The commonplace is precious.

We can teach our children and our families to focus less on material comforts, including various devices, and focus more on contentment with family relationships and common family life. The family who prepares dinner together, and then enjoys it as a family around a dinner table, is increasingly more rare. This common scenario is no longer common. We have traded the reliable and commonplace family dinner for the so-called comforts of fast or fancy food.

As a family, decide to be content (i.e., grateful) with being and doing daily things together. Those families who find happiness and joy in each other’s company will not be as fooled or distracted by the perpetually new material comforts that abound.

Myth 2: Work is a Drudgery

Why does society always make work sound so distasteful? We often use undesirable phrases to describe working, such as “hard work,” “getting your hands dirty,” and “workaholic.” These are somewhat aristocratic in nature and suggest that somehow work is bad. If something is bad, then logically it won’t bring happiness.

Instead of embracing manual labor as a vital part of our family cultures, we often fall into the trap of excuse making and indulgences.

It’s difficult to feel fulfilled when nothing is ever accomplished. People who do things have confidence in themselves. Knowing how to work opens the door to motivation, achievement and success.

The misconception is that greatness just happens to a person. This is not true. Greatness is something that finds a person when he or she has worked diligently on seemingly common tasks or projects for long periods of time. Those mundane moments of work lead a person to confidence, then purpose for life. The person may indeed be surprised by the greatness he or she develops, but careful examination of the person’s work-filled life eliminates all surprises.

Young people are buying the myth that they only need to exist to become praiseworthy. They aren’t launching from homes as confident adults. The lack of time working is partially to blame for this.

Truth 2: Work Leads to Happiness

This spring I told the children that we would do 2.5 hours of family yard work time daily through the growing season. They said, “Okay” and set their alarms to wake up extra early to get it done with me. When we work in the gardens we talk and laugh and problem solve and struggle. Afterward, we see the work of our hands and feel the satisfaction of a job well done and unified relationships. We are happy. Historically, growing food is one of the basic elements of a free people. I’m sure the freedom found in the work of farming isn’t just national freedom, but personal freedom too.

Creating a habit of working as a family teaches children to reach goals and practice patience, which are essential for happiness, freedom and success in life.

Myth 3: Pleasure is Happiness

Pleasure is of the senses and happiness is a condition of the heart. Pleasure is fleeting and happiness remains through trials, pains, setbacks, failures, deaths, sicknesses and struggles.

In a time of new smells, flavors, experiences, sensations and touches — as well as a time of music, video and the digital phenomenon — pleasure seeking can become a priority before we even know we’re doing it.

Even most casual conversation revolves around discussions about sources of pleasure or of lacking pleasure. To seek pleasure is to seek for personal indulgences. We all do it. It’s part of our human condition, but pleasure doesn’t bring true happiness. Pleasure can simulate happiness for a short time, but if it was truly happiness it would be lasting and come from the inside.

Truth 3: Happiness and Pleasure Are Not The Same

Goodness, self-control and repentance all lead to happiness.

When a person wants to do good, do God’s desire, or simply choose good actions, the natural consequence is a good, happy, joyful feeling in their heart.

Many times I’ve seen children and parents decide to change their behaviors because they want to stop relationship-destroying habits or emotions. They logically decide to fix a problem relationship or behavior and end up having a transformation of heart. The act of changing the behavior is a form of repentance, and the repentant action leads them to a transformation of character and heart.

It’s true that some people have a change of heart and then change their behaviors, but I more often see people choose to change a behavior for a desired outcome and then taste the sweetness of goodness and happiness. This inspires them to never want to go back to their old way of living.

Pleasure is fleeting and doesn’t transform a heart for the better, but happiness is long lasting and inspires transformation of the soul.

When we help our children change their behaviors, we help them find a pathway to happiness; a pathway to changing their hearts.

Victims of Environment

Our global society is confused on the issue of happiness. The messages surrounding us promote consumerism, materialism, elitism, idleness and pleasure seeking. When we buy into these social ideals, we will not find happiness. Instead, we’ll find emptiness. We’re all the victims of this environment, but we can do something about it. We can teach our children what true happiness means, how to find it, and that our family is the place where happiness grows best.

Coming soon! Nicholeen’s mother will share her gardening and cooking secrets for a fulfilled family culture in her new book series. Pre-sale going on now here!