When I found out I was going to be a parent for the first time, I immediately started a mental list of everything I wanted to teach my child. The list grew daily, comprised of everything from the simple ABCs to loftier items like empathy. Over time, though, I’ve come to learn that my child is the one who actually does a lot of the teaching. I’ve learned a lot from my now-two-year-old, including these five lessons about finding real happiness.
1. Wear what makes you feel beautiful
My daughter wears princess costumes every day and usually at bedtime, too, over her pajamas. The dresses are old and tattered from constant wear. The ensemble is usually capped with her red polka-dotted rain boots. And yes, she does leave the house like that. Regularly.
Often she spins, giddy at the silhouette the gown makes as she turns round and round. She puts the dresses on her little sister, exclaiming, “She looks so pretty just like me!”
I would not dream of taking her dresses away and making her wear matching outfits like other kids. The dresses make her feel beautiful, and I admire her boldness. One day she will not want them anymore, and that will be fine with me, too.
One-size-fits-all does not exist in beauty. Find what makes you feel beautiful and embrace it; you don’t need permission to be yourself.
2. Express your emotions
When my daughter feels something, she says it out loud. Because her vocabulary is somewhat limited still, she usually reverts to “that makes me so happy,” or “that makes me so sad.” Simple, yes, but I don’t have to guess.
Bottling up your feelings can be toxic. Suppressing emotions – good or bad – can wear you down. It is not always a good time to talk about your every fleeting feeling, but it is good to make time to talk about the really big ones.
Express your emotions when appropriate so the people in your life know what they’re doing right or what they could be doing better.
3. Don’t forget to cuddle
“Will you snuggle me one more time?” my daughter asks every night before bed. My answer is always yes. Her tiny arms wrap tightly around my neck as I lay curled, my body barely fitting in the toddler bed. I am so content in this innocent little cuddle, though, that the discomfort is minor.
Our human nature is to touch and be touched. Allowing yourself to give and receive affection shows both vulnerability and strength, both of which are necessary to stay afloat in this life.
Whether it is with a handshake or a hug, make an effort to embrace those around you who matter.
4. Ask for help when you need it
My daughter asks me for help with age-appropriate tasks if she’s unable to complete them on her own first. (Putting on pants with the zipper in the front is a big one right now.) On a bad day, she’ll come running to me, frustrated and begging for assistance. Most of the time, though, she will make her attempt and fail quietly. Then, she’ll come to me and say, “Help please, Mommy.” She is not ashamed to ask for help, for she is too young to even consider that as an appropriate reaction. She tried her best and decided she needed help, and that’s ok.
Even the most independent, competent people can’t do everything perfectly. It is ok to ask for help when – not if – you someday need it. Don’t let pride get in the way of your happiness.
5. Find the good in people and focus on it
While out one afternoon, I came upon a homeless gentleman standing at an intersection with a pack on his back and a cardboard sign in his hands. I rummaged around in my purse for a spare dollar, and he thanked me. I felt sorry for him as I drove away, a person so down on his luck.
My daughter was quiet in the back seat, looking out the window for birds. I asked what she thought about the man.
“He’s nice. I like his backpack,” she smiled.
That’s it – that’s all she saw. He was polite in thanking me for the dollar, so he was nice. He had a backpack, and she liked those. Positives.
Encountering difficult situations is part of being human, but how we respond to those situations defines what kind of human we are. Consciously choose to find the good in people and focus on it, and you’ll be a happier one.