A Breakdown of Happiness:
The definition of what it means to be Happy differs greatly between East and West. In Western societies happiness is shown as high arousal states such as excitement, enthusiasm and cheerfulness, while in the East more attention is placed on the low arousal states of calmness and respectful harmonious social roles which include being sensitive to others. In dialectic cultures such as Japan, beliefs that good things follow from bad things and vice versa dominate their concept of happiness.
The belief that happiness is simply down to Good Luck pervades several cultures such as Japan, Russia, Germany, France and Norway and therefore it is less likely to be pursued as a goal unlike the US where Happiness is treated as a personal priority and viewed as a state of celebration.
Beliefs, attitudes and practices influence what it means to be Happy throughout the world. For example, in many Western cultures death is viewed as a time of grief and deep unhappiness. In China, preparing for one’s death is considered a happy occasion as they consider that death is something to be ‘done well.’ The Chinese term for Happiness ‘Xingfu’ means a good life or a life with meaning.
High self-esteem and personal achievement are important factors in Western cultures when determining what happiness looks like, but generally, the most vital elements are considered to be: Social Support, ie; family connections, freedom and trust.
The United Nations’ World Happiness Report shows that the top five happiest countries in the world are Finland, Denmark, Norway, Iceland and the Netherlands. These cultures describe happiness as having realistic expectations about life and strong social support. They tend to be content with what they have in life with ‘everything in moderation’, whereas high achievers in the US tend to be less content as they strive for more economic wealth. In contrast, the Danish word ‘lykke’ describes a form of happiness brought about by simple pleasures.
However, a certain level of economic wealth in every culture is recognised as creating better life satisfaction in general as it contributes to higher living standards.
From this cultural blend of ideas surrounding happiness, children will absorb what it means to be Happy in their society and therefore, how we decide how to define what characteristics a Happy Child will display will vary.
In the West, we recognise happy children as having positive temperaments, they are proactive, communicative, tenacious, hard-working and receptive to learning. In Eastern cultures, a happy child would be considered quiet and respectful especially towards their elders. They will not challenge authority but will be obedient and studious by nature.
However, we cannot ignore genetic predispositions to certain character traits which may lean towards anxiety or depression which can reduce the ability to be happy in spite of a stable environment. Some challenging characteristics such as emotional instability, impulsivity and hyper-sensitivity as classified within certain mental health disorders, may have more to do with inherited personality traits than environmental or cultural influences, and like ASD (Autism) they may be competently managed, but not erased.
Some child experts believe Less in More when it comes to child rearing. In general, the happiest children tend to be those who are allowed to develop their own imagination by exploring the world around them. Child psychologists recommend against seeking to fill every hour of every day with entertainment, toys and activities which, as reports have shown, tend to create dissatisfied children with unrealistic expectations and who are unable to develop self-reliance.
‘It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.’
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