Happiness should NOT be the goal... instead embrace negative feelings

Apr 19, 2021

Did you know that advertising targeted to kids is over $4 billion a year? Yes, you heard me…  $4 BILLION.  But given that kids can influence parents spending, sometimes up to 98% of the time, it seems that the marketing spend is worth it.  But what kind of messages are our kids getting, how are they being influenced?

Now, we think that the main point of the marketing is to create a desire for the product itself.  But, let’s start by making it clear that the underlying message behind most of the marketing is that the product will make us feel better.  This is because when we have a desire for something, the desire isn’t actually for the thing.  The desire is for the feeling that we think the thing will bring us.  For example, your kids don’t want the Air Force 1 sneakers for the sneakers.  They want them because they want to feel confident, like they fit it, admired or looked up to by other kids that want them too…  ultimately, they think those specific sneakers will make them feel happy.

We, and our children, are marketed to with the premise that we should always be happy.  If we’re not happy, something is wrong, and there is a product out there that we can buy that will make us happy again.  Happiness is the ultimate goal.

But would you ever go watch a movie that was just happily ever after from the beginning to end?  There was no conflict, and the hero or heroine didn’t have any challenges that they had to face and overcome?  It would be so boring!  It would be like eating the same food for every meal all year long or painting with all muted colors.  Without challenges and a contrast of emotions, that’s what our lives would become too… just various shades of gray and rather monotone. The contrast of both the positive and negative allows us to experience the richness of the whole human experience!

Unfortunately, as a society, we have generally made happiness our goal and in the process we have also villainized negative emotions.  When we experience negative feelings we think something has gone “wrong” for us or for our kids.

As children or young adults, most of us weren’t taught how to process negative feelings, or what to do when we were experiencing emotional pain.  It’s not part of the curriculum in school, and likely not something that our parents knew either.   We received messages that negative emotions and pain are bad, that we should hide them and not show them.  We should work to be happy.

But if we were happy all the time, happy wouldn’t be the same anymore… we would stop knowing the difference.  We can’t truly experience the feeling of happiness if we don’t also experience the feeling of sadness.  We have to know sorrow to truly know joy. Your children have to know disappointment to also truly know satisfaction.  We have to have the contrast of emotions so we actually know the difference!

The other issue with being happy all the time is that we would sacrifice a tremendous amount of personal growth and motivation.  Growth doesn’t happen when life is easy.  Challenges and conflicts help us develop resilience, self-confidence, and problem-solving skills… just to name a few.

The most difficult and painful periods in our lives often fuel the greatest amount of personal growth and motivate us to make changes that ultimately lead us down the paths to our dreams.  We have to go through difficult and painful periods to become the person capable of achieving the dreams.  Our children have to go through challenges and work through conflicts to build their self-confidence in themselves and gain skills in solving problems.

So let’s talk about negative feelings and what happens to us when we are experiencing negative emotions. When most of us experience painful emotions our brain freaks out and tells us that something is wrong and needs to be fixed.  And, when our kids are experiencing negative feelings we are also on high alert.   

If you have a child going through a rough period and suffering from strong negative emotions, I’m guessing that your brain is telling you that everything is wrong and you are desperately trying to figure out how to fix things for them.  You really want to “help” your child when they have negative feelings… but just be aware that your brain is uncomfortable with negative emotions.  It wants you to fix it so they feel better, so ultimately you will feel better.  Our brains are tricky like that!

Developing the ability to deal with and successfully navigate negative emotions will raise your child’s emotional intelligence.  What if the difficulty that your child was having was going to help them develop their own resilience and self-confidence?  What if nothing had gone wrong?  Would you look at the situation any differently?

I can already hear you answering maybe, or yes to these questions…  but you still want to know what you can DO to help? Right?  

Listen, as humans our brains are genetically wired to keep us safe and comfortable.  It is how our species survived and evolved.  Unfortunately, our brains look at negative emotions as danger.  So it freaks out… and that is totally normal.

So, one of the most important things you can do as a conscious parent is to normalize the negative emotions that your child is feeling.  Negative emotions are just part of life, and that the brain is just doing its job.  Negative feelings are not bad and they do not mean that anything has gone wrong.  It’s just their brain doing its job.  Let your children know that it’s safe and normal to feel negative emotions.

As for you, realize that your brain will also be freaking out, telling you that you need to fix things for your child.  As long as they’re not in danger, resist the urge to take over and give them space to work through it.  Ask your brain questions to shift your focus:  How might my child be benefiting from this situation?  Are they learning any lessons?  What skills might my child be developing?  How can I show my child that I am confident in their ability to solve challenging problems?

This my friends is conscious parenting.  The more that we can normalize negative emotions for our kids, the more we set them up for an emotionally healthy life… not looking everywhere outside of them for products and solutions to help fix how they feel.

Can you imagine a world of emotionally healthy young people that know how to deal with and process big heavy emotions?  I’m working on that vision and hope that you’ll join me!

I have an upcoming workshop on helping kids navigate negative feelings.  If you want to get on the list to be notified when registration opens, please click here.  If you want individualized one on one help, you can book a call to discuss options for working with me here.

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