YOUr ok, THeir OK. THeir ok if YOur OK!
The following is a dialog between Dr. Brilliant Cliché and a questioner (Freda) who asked in exasperation:
Freda- I see parents who cater to their whining children and insist that they are only trying to make the child happy.
Is a spoiled brat who wants what he wants NOW, really unhappy? If he complains about everything, does that mean he is unhappy?
Dr. Brilliant Cliché- A “brat” by the nature of that word is not happy, they are unfulfilled. They concentrate too heavily on fulfilling themselves and have too little awareness of others.
The opposite, complete selflessness (often mom), is unhappy too. A life of selflessness is only fulfilling if selflessness creates the self and doesn’t deplete it. Most people want something back; they need something back, they don’t give for the sake of giving. This is understandable as life is hard and most people aren’t in a position to be selfless. True and complete Selflessness means being a monk, owning nothing and devoted to charity. Most people do what they can and for them boundaries are necessary or others will deplete them. This applies not only to your kids but to everyone.
Our culture is very black and white and preaches the selflessness of a monk but not the skills of life within our culture. Thus a lot of people are confused, sacrifice, set poor boundaries and become resentful and angry and live in guilt.
Freda- So you’re saying parents with whining brats who indulge their every wish and insist that the child’s happiness is their first concern are actually damaging their children?
Dr. Brilliant Cliché- Yes they are creating codependent monsters. They will be confused and never develop the skills needed for balance and happiness in their own lives.
Freda- What I really want to know is- if a person is happy, does that mean that person gets everything they want? Is the brat who gets everything they want happy?
Dr. Brilliant Cliché- Happy people don’t have everything they want; in fact no one gets everything they want. Happy people appreciate; they make the most out of what they have! And they seek to know themselves, thus try to fulfill their needs. Life is always a struggle between the needs for self and the needs for and of others; both must balance. There is no one thing that can do this. The balance of self and others is a skill. Without this skill no matter what you have you will be unhappy.
Thus Happiness is a skill, not an answer.
Freda- We hear all the time about “happy endings”, but happiness doesn’t seem to be something that people can hold on to. What exactly is Happiness?
Dr. Brilliant Cliché- This is a good question… and a Big question, with no simple answers.
First I will define happiness as a byproduct, a momentary reaction, a fleeting point in time. It is an emotional state that is the result of a process, either psychological and/or behavioral. For example: meeting an expectation, finding success, learning something… any of these can bring the effect. Happiness is part of the feedback loop in the brain involved with learning and reinforcement of behaviors. You do something and are successful; it feels good thus you do it again. The effect can be artificially induced by raising the level of chemicals that are involved in this feedback loop via street drugs or the misuse of certain pharmaceuticals. The problem is that if one artificially induces the emotion, it 1) bypasses the learning feedback loop thus no new behaviors are learned or reinforced. In the long run, this affects motivation (as seen in ‘the stoner effect’, or A-Motivational Syndrome from marijuana use) ; 2) it is temporary, and the higher one experiences the upside of the emotion, the bigger the crash will be when it runs out. Thus addiction risks occur. 3) Over time the body stops making its own reinforcement chemicals leaving a person emotionally empty unless using the substance.
In order to explain happiness I need to also clarify Contentment. This is a condition based on balance and the fulfillment of one’s needs over a period of time. If happiness were rain, contentment is humidity – the background state that allows for the other to occur. So happiness is an immediate state and contentment is the long term or condition. Contentment is the satisfaction of our needs. Happiness is more like the gauge used to fine tune the balance that is Contentment. Our needs change as we develop from child to adult.
Freda- What is the different between being happy as a child vs. as an adult?
Dr. Brilliant Cliché- For this we need to introduce development because one’s needs depend on where one is in the developmental cycle.
The following axioms are adapted from Piaget’s theory of cognitive development. There are many other processes going on which we could talk about but then this essay would become a book. We can go back to these later via questions if anyone wishes.
From age 0-6 is the stage of symbiosis – a child can not differentiate itself from its caretaker thus there are two primary needs- 1) survival (eat, sleep, poop), and 2) the need for those caretakers to be in balance/sync with their own environment and with the child. When a baby bird cheeps the momma bird needs to be there to bring the worm. If the momma bird isn’t there (out of sync) the bird has to cheep louder. Children are no different. So in this stage, happiness is defined by whether attention is given in sync with need. A Childs behavior exaggerates just like the birds getting louder when the parent and child are out of sync.
From 6-12 is the stage of concrete operational – The child has developed a sense of self. Here the child is learning rules. In this stage the child’s primary need is consistency. Kids constantly challenge the rules because they need to work out how they apply. The more cognitively concrete or literal the child is, the more they need to challenge. They will butt their head at the same rule from many different angles, since it isn’t intuitive yet as to how to generalize rules. Contentment here comes from consistency from the parents. Happiness In this stage is from experiences that reinforce the child’s sense of development of self. (Successes, affirmations, addressing their motivations.) The whining which you brought up in your question addresses the child’s challenging of the rules; it’s annoying but developmentally necessary. A caretaker’s consistency to rules and expectations allow the child to resolve their conflicts over time. Beware of role reversals, and of indulging the child’s whims! The adult should not let the child start setting the rules for the parent to follow. This only causes chaos and anxiety in the system and in the growing child. It diminishes the child’s sense of self as they never learn to resolve conflict or how rules actually apply. It also becomes a diversion- the conflict becomes that of parent vs. child. The functioning of rules and expectations should remain the focus. So… you asked “is the child is unhappy if they don’t get their wants catered to?” No. They might be angry in the moment but that Is ok, they are not unhappy. Real unhappiness comes from always getting their wants catered too as It violates the rules and makes the child confused.
From ages 12 and up is the formal operational stage. Here, the rules one learned in one’s family now have to be applied to and worked out in the greater community of peers, friends, and community. Whining here revolves about these issues. One starts to see that everyone does things differently and the rules one learned growing up do not, on the surface, seem to matter or apply. Teenagers become hypocrisy meters and challenge every inconsistency they find. Again, the best family role is to be consistent. They are just learning the application of rules in the wider sense. In this stage the teenager is developing the ability to deal with the ambiguous nature of reality. The idea of “moral relativity” arises. The movie Dakota sky is a great depiction of this idea.
In the movie, when people talk to Dakota at age 16 she hears the truth. Whatever people say to her is subtitled. The subtitles tell the truth, but it is not what people are saying to her. The fact that everyone lies pisses her off and she becomes isolative and negative. As she learns moral relativity, she realizes that people aren’t necessarily lying; they believe what they are saying. It’s just that no two people experience the world exactly the same way. Truth is relative. It is one’s INTENT (aims and goals) that matter and those are not dependent on what anyone else thinks. So contentment in this stage is dependent upon ones Intent-what kind of person do you want to be? It’s your goals, your motivation.
Now as an adult two other traits need be added for contentment, Compassion and Mindfulness. It is the merging of these three traits (INTENT, COMPASSION, and MINDFULNESS) that create balance which is the bases of adult contentment.
COMPASSION is the balance of self and others. Compassion is getting out of the way, support without indulgence. If you do everything for someone they never learn to do it themselves. If you deplete yourself you are useless to serve others.
MINDFULNESS – that’s the big picture. Reacting only to the immediate tends to diminish the growth of the big picture. It is a balance of subjectivity and objectivity. An example is: what you want might not be what you need.
Freda- Does the criteria for happiness change as we change from children into adults?
Dr. Brilliant Cliché- yes, and no. our needs change based on development but the criteria remains in learning how to express those needs and not get them all confused with wants or others expectations. As a child contentment is a Child’s safety and security thus for children happiness cannot exist without a stable and consistent family with clear rules and expectations. As an adult happiness cannot exist without responsible and balanced choices.
Remember one can bypass stability and balance strait into happiness via drugs, a boyfriend who promises you all you want to hear etc. But it is not real and you will pay the piper. The happier you are if is not real, not from stable balanced choices the more you will pay.
To sum it all up –happiness for a baby is your happy adult being in sync with you. For a growing child, it’s learning rules and the consistency and support of your family as you become an individual; and as a teen it’s the affirmation by and consistency of your family as you enter the world and challenge your family with what you bring back home; and as an adult it’s how you balance your intent/goals within the big picture rather than sabotaging yourself. Whining along the way is normal adjustment and growing pains; but it should never be allowed to derail normal development.
To be complete let us not forget the Neuro-chemical blueprint of happiness:
The chemicals of happiness are Norepinephrine, dopamine and serotonin.
Dopamine – utilized in memory, the reinforcement feelings of well being, insight, and knowing.
Serotonin – functions as the volume control of emotion; is integral to both continuity of thought and feelings of connection to others.
Norepinephrine – is used in attention span and alertness, excitement.
There are also physical manifestations of these chemicals. Thus, when you mess with drugs there are physical consequences as well as psychological ones.
Dopamine is involved in movement. If you mess with it, you get increased or decreased movements – tremors, extra movements, jerks or twitches, along with either inability to initiate or over- initiation (impulsivity).
Serotonin is used everywhere – intestines, blood pressure, sweat glands. It governs Proprioception (the sense of where one is in space), and it is the major regulatory chemical that helps in both physical and psychological balance.
Antidepressants work with these chemicals. If needed and if used correctly they are not addicting and can help one in achieving balance.
Here is a table that summarizes my thoughts:
|Contentment is not equal to —||Happiness|
|Based on balanceIs a skill||Momentary state, result of…|
|Background condition, i.e. choices|
|Is as to humidityAs kid background is family
As adult background is choices we make and the friends and relations we have.
|Is as to rainIf we bypass contentment we can achieve happiness but we will pay the piper. The larger the happiness the more we will pay if it is not from the stance of balance.
Ex: drugs, a boyfriend that promises what we want to hear, Christmas.
-Dr. Brilliant Cliché