Jack’s current favorite song is called “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. He played it in the kitchen the other night and did this funny dance up on his heels, twisting back and forth. The song is pretty damn catchy:

Because I’m happyyyyyy
Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
Because I’m happyyyyyy
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth

For some reason the song has really stuck with me. It was something about Jack being drawn to a song called “Happy.” I thought about the last few months; something has been hanging over us all. Something has been off. I mean, Shani has gone back to work part time, which has impacted all of our schedules. Plus baseball tryouts have tied Jack up in knots. Plus this whole winter has seemed to last 6 months.

But all that said, this song kept nagging me.

The real question is: Is Jack happy? That question is really what it’s about. Is my 10-year-old son happy? In fact, is it an unhappy Jack that is pulling things south for the entire house? Could that be what’s been off? The thought’s been like a popcorn kernel stuck in between my backmost molars.

When I started managing people at work, I tried to manage in a way that made my people happy. This was highly unsuccessful. It was a big “aha” for me when I realized it was not my job to make someone happy. It was fruitless. My job is to make them as effective as possible. Forget about happy. And that’s been a hell of a lot more successful. But it took me a while to figure that out.

It occurs to me that I might be going through the same kind of thing with Jack.

Look, you want your kids to be happy. Kids set the whole tone. I mean, who the hell can be sad with a kid giggling nearby or your kid snuggling up against you? And up until recently it’s been easy for me to make my kids happy. Shit, give ‘em a box of tic-tacs and they’re delirious. A new stuffed animal can instantly fix a broken bone.

So now my Jack. I wouldn’t say he’s “unhappy.” Sometimes he’s super happy. We went sledding last weekend and it was one of the happiest days I can remember. But sometimes he’s not happy. Sometimes he doesn’t make his bed and we ask him a hundred times and he tells us we never leave him alone and his friends can’t have a sleepover and he’s stuck here with boring us and the baseball tryouts have him stressed out…

The big “aha” is that I can’t make him happy. Not anymore. I can’t pull him from a desultory silence with a trip to get water ice or a ninja fight in the basement. We can no longer make Jack happy. As he becomes more his own person, it means being happy is more up to him. This is a natural, healthy, necessary transition and it is unraveling the natural order of our home.

It makes me realize that it was never really the bribe that made them happy. It was the kindness from their mom and dad. It was the attention from their favorite people in the world. And as we cease to be the sun and stars in his life, the efficacy of our bribes dwindles. Really that leaves two paths in front of us:

Option 1: We can amp up the bribes. Sure a trip to get ice cream won’t make him happy anymore, but what about an X-Box? That’ll pull him out, right? And it’ll do wonders for him in the friend department too.

However, we all know where that leads. We know those parents who keep trying to buy their kids’ happiness for them. Today an X-Box, tomorrow a car, eventually the down payment on a house and permanent help with the bills.

This path will do my son no favors.

Option 2: We can change the way we do business. We can accept the unraveling and begin to build a new order within our home. We can accept that Jack will be unhappy, because that is the only way he can learn the essential skill of creating happiness for himself.

What to do? Sing along with me…

Because I’m happyyyy
Clap along if you prefer option 2.

Because I’m happyyyy
Clap along if you feel like you’d choose that way too.

But maybe we’ll still get an X-Box. That could have a place in our new home order, right? All right, I promise more baseball stuff is coming soon.

One thought on “Happy

  1. Mike, I deal with a lot of kid related issues in my home. I think the biggest mistake people make is trying to be friends with their kids, enabling, etc… I think they need to feel loved and kept stimulated, which hopefully will teach them what makes them happy It is definitely a balancing act. Sometimes I feel like I have one kid under control and then something happens with the next one. I know you are good Dad, because you care and I am sure you self reflect. I try to give incentives (small things when it makes sense), if there are goals at school for example. My kids are horrible at communicating and God knows I never listened to my Dad about a lot of things in my formative years. He was probably right more than I care to admit…. these days our relationship is fantastic and we talk about life lessons or just guy stuff. When I was younger, he got me involved in athletics and Boy Scouts (I could not get my driver’s license until I achieved Eagle Scout). The other thing that is hard to teach your kids is that often times we fail a lot more than we succeed and the point is to keep trying. My 2 Cents.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s