Parenting with Presence
Susan Stiffelman : Happiness Is an Inside Job

Parenting with Presence

Happiness Is an Inside Job

By Susan Stiffelman, MFT | 5/30/15
a selection from Parenting with Presence

Piglet noticed that even though he had a very small heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude. — A.A. Milne

When I was a teenager in the 1970s, I once wandered into a New Age bookshop in Kansas City and picked up a little blue book called Discourses of Meher Baba. I actually had no idea what a discourse was, but the first line stayed with me for the rest of my life: “Say, ‘I do not want anything’ and be happy.” As young and inexperienced as I was, this idea resonated all the way down to my bones; I knew it was true, even if I wasn’t entirely sure I understood what it meant or how to go about embodying it.

Countless luminaries have said the same thing — that the key to happiness lies in freeing oneself from desire. When we are at peace with life just as it is, we liberate ourselves to experience true joy. I believe that with all my heart.

This does not mean we should raise our children to drift through life without honoring the nudges and longings of their spirit. Yearning is often the language of our deepest self, prompting us to develop our unique talents and gifts. It is a matter of maintaining a balance between what Eckhart Tolle calls being and becoming. In his lectures, he explains that if we’re too focused on becoming we lose the ability to enjoy the present moment, falling into patterns of stress, anxiety, and never feeling fulfilled. But if we only stay in a state of being, we are not very effective in the world. Eckhart describes this as going below thought, explaining that if we abandon all striving, we can actually lose a sense of alertness, which is part of being present. We need to maintain a balance between being and doing for life to be enjoyable and fruitful.

But living in a culture that tempts us with an endless parade of things that promise to make us really happy makes maintaining that balance easier said than done. And raising kids who don’t desperately want one thing or another? Quite challenging. Our children are bombarded with the promise of popularity, approval, status, or pleasure if they can acquire something that is usually just out of reach. “If I just get an A on that test...If Cameron tells Caitlyn that he does like me...If you guys would buy me a newer iPad with a better camera...”

This calls to mind a survey by Pew Research Center in which, when asked what they aspired to be, 81 percent of eighteen- to twenty-five-year-olds responded that what they most wanted to be was rich. It isn’t easy to counteract the impact of advertisers that make it seem as though life without x, y, or z just isn’t quite up to snuff.

But happiness cannot be bought. In my psychotherapy practice, some of my most despondent clients grace the covers of magazines, own homes all over the world, and live seemingly idyllic lives, frequently photographed frolicking in the Malibu surf with their stunning spouse and picture-perfect kids at their side. Few would guess that they limp through their days depressed and brokenhearted, or that they attempt to manage their unhappiness with drugs or alcohol. Everything looks great from the outside — the shiny red apple — but inside is a worm, eating away at their soul.

As I was leafing through a copy of Architectural Digest, featuring impeccably designed houses — dreamy kitchens, showcase living rooms, hand-crafted furniture, and every pillow placed just so — I started thinking about the families living in these homes. Certainly some of the residents move through the sumptuous rooms in appreciation and delight. But I have known people who spent years manifesting their dream home and ended up facing the painful truth that happiness is not for sale; heartache still seeped in. Maybe the family doesn’t gather around the massive stone fireplace in the cathedral-ceilinged imported oak-beamed living room to share laughs and play games in the evenings. Maybe the kids routinely sulk in their designer bedrooms, miserably consumed with trying to impress their online friends. The house might be worthy of envy, but not the lives being lived within its walls.

There is nothing wrong with enjoying the finer things in life, and many wealthy people live gratifying lives filled with love, joy and purpose. I just want to highlight that worldly success and happiness do not go hand in hand. The elements that contribute to a fulfilling life go far beyond what money can buy. •

Next: Inject More Fun; Mindful Drawing; Storytelling »

Susan StiffelmanSusan Stiffelman, MFT is the bestselling author of Parenting with Presence and Parenting without Power Struggles. More »

Excerpted from the book Parenting with Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids ©2015 by Susan Stiffelman. Printed with permission of New World Library. www.newworldlibrary.com

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