As they prepared to walk through the door, her mother jerked her aside by the arm and got in her face. Her grip nearly cut off the circulation.
“Now you will go in there and smile,” she muttered through gritted teeth.
The little girl nodded and managed to make her face comply. But her eyes betrayed what forced muscles could never do. She wasn’t happy. She was terrified. She knew better than to show that side either. Instead, her face became robotic, snapping into position on command, covering whatever emotion might unmask the real story.
Such is the case for so many of us today. Our culture demands we present a happy front nearly all the time. A recent article posted on Quartz, discusses how the obsessive push in our culture to ever be positive has become a burden of its own.
The obsessive push in our culture to ever be positive has become a burden of its own.
“Everyone wants you to be happy: Self-help books dish out advice on how to stop worrying, boost happiness, and banish negative thoughts; bosses want to see smiling enthusiasm in the workplace; and the only way to respond to “how are you?” is with a joyful “great!” author Olivia Goldhill writes.
Indeed, social media is rife with happy, feel good posts. And why not? There’s nothing wrong with that. But social networks only make it easier to slap on that plastic mask. While they offer a digital connection to so many, it does little to offer the deeper, more meaningful connections forged in flesh and blood community.
Social networks only make it easier to slap on that plastic mask. While they offer a digital connection to so many, it does little to offer the deeper, more meaningful connections forged in flesh and blood community.
But this is the world my children are growing up in. While we are free to pursue happiness, we are instead pressured into manufacturing positive emotions at the expense of all others.
And it is a dangerous trend. Christianity Today recently explored why so many children are battling anxiety today. It begins with the parents.
“To this point, a recently published study reveals that one in six American adults take at least one psychiatric drug, usually an anti-anxiety medication or antidepressant, and most have been doing so for a year or more…
Simultaneously, some of these adults come from the generation of helicopter parenting, where moms and dads go to great lengths to shield their children from emotional pain, fear, or discomfort. Their own anxiety—coupled with the desire to protect their kids from stress instead of allowing them to feel the weight of it and work through it—may be causing more harm than good. “
Simply put: Demanding happiness from our kids sets them up to fail.
The truth is I don’t want my kids to feel they must always be happy. I don’t even want them to feel that happiness is the end goal of every struggle. Instead, I want them to learn how to work through the difficult emotions brought on through pain, fear, discomfort, and grief.
I don’t want my kids to feel they must always be happy. I don’t even want them to feel that happiness is the end goal of every struggle.
I want them to acknowledge the pain. I want them to acknowledge the heartache they will most definitely experience in this life. I want them to understand that life is just messy, emotions are not tame, that nothing is picture perfect beyond the four corners of a carefully crafted selfie.
If I could shield them from all this, everything in my mothering heart would die to do so. But even if I could, I would be robbing them of something far more important: Peace.
That’s not something they can manufacture. And it only comes from one source.
“Hush, be still,” Jesus commanded to the sea as the disciples cried out. They thought they were all going to die and their teacher certainly showed no signs of caring.
But at that moment, Jesus was not concerned with their comfort or happiness. Instead, he asked them, “How is it that you have no faith?”
Jesus was not concerned with their comfort or happiness. Instead, he asked them, “How is it that you have no faith?”
The very One who commanded the wind and waves stood before them and they failed to see. With one command “the wind died down and it became perfectly calm.” (Mark 4:35-41)
The truth applies here. If I make happiness the goal for my children, they may miss the One standing before them who offers peace instead.
Because peace in middle of our broken, messed up lives is what we need most.
Because happiness is fleeting and circumstantial but peace reveals an inner strength.
Because that inner strength is where true joy springs forth. It comes from a heart that has learned to rest in the storm, trusting in the One who commands the winds and waves.
Because a heart at peace is where real smiles are born, even for that scared girl whose arm hurt from her mother’s clutch.
It’s that kind of peace that I want to pass on to my children.