The Happiness Link

One of the greatest fallacies of our time is the mistaken social rule that “happiness means being comfortable”.

When was the last time that you saw modern-day movie where the hero or heroine was happy to be in an impoverished and uncomfortable state?

Advertisers play upon this unspoken rule by convincing us that pain need not be felt; there is always an extra-strength pill to pop which will eliminate the inconvenience of any kind of discomfort.

Food, entertainment, and the pursuit of wealth are some of the ‘drugs’ we may find ourselves using to avoid dealing with loneliness, stressed relationships, or other painful experiences.

Please don’t get me wrong. I am definitely a comfort fan as I sit here typing in my leather ergonomic office chair wearing sheepskin-lined clogs.

Yet, it behooves us to ask:

What are the long-term side effects of raising children in a comfort-obsessed culture?

On the surface, all that glitters is gold, and giving our children a pleasant and pain-free childhood may seem to be the ultimate goal while raising small souls.

However, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to realize that growing up with a silver spoon in his mouth will make our son less equipped to deal with the reality of life.

The fact of the matter is that disappointments happen. Wealth can insulate people against certain misfortunes, but the nature of life is such that nobody gets an easy ride all the way from cradle to grave.

Everybody gets rejected at some point- either by a college, girlfriend, potential boss, or a myriad of other institutions.

Although we’d like to, we know that it is impossible to shield our children from rejection forever. And from illnesses, stressful relationships, and broken heating systems during an ice storm at midnight of a weekend holiday when all the plumbers in town are away. (Yes, that was me last December- and it taught me a valuable, though freezing, lesson!)

We want the best for our children. A simple calculation will reveal that ‘the best’ does not mean providing endless comfort and pleasure for our offspring. Rather, ‘the best’ will be fortifying our children with the mental fortitude to effectively handle the ups- as well as the downs- of life.

There is no denying that it is extremely challenging to say “no” to our children. Perhaps we are attempting to compensate for our own childhood, where “no” was doled out with too much frequency. Or, we have the means and the time to give our child the coveted item of the fifth grade for this week. Witness any harried parent at the candy-laden checkout counter with a child in the front of her shopping cart. Saying “no” can be downright embarrassing!

Yet, we are all familiar with adults who are self-centered and narcissistic- they are the ones who blow up in a volcanic eruption each time things don’t quite go their way. Perhaps you had a boss or neighbor who radiated tension when uncontrollable things (think: the weather) went awry. That is certainly not the kind of person we want our child to become!

So, the next time your child says, “Everyone else is going there…” or, “I really neeeeeeed this thing!!!” – think about it just once more.

The timing may be right to give your daughter a gift or to treat your son to something special.

Or the timing may not be quire right.

You be the judge.

Happy parenting- where there are no cut-and-dry-rules!


  1. Living on a tight budget has taught our entire family important lessons on priorities and sacrifice. No, we do not need 3 Gameboys (etc.) for 3 kids…we will share ONE and survive! No, you do not need a TV in each bedroom…we’ll all watch the one in the family room TOGETHER and actually be near and TALK to each other. If you want the newest video game, save your change and your chore money and learn to sacrifice for what you want. No, we do not need portable VCRs for the car…we will listen to music, sing, talk to each other and enjoy the scenery. Call me old-fashioned, but I think my little ones are all the better for it. And NEVER be embarrassed to say NO to candy in the checkout lane…BE PROUD!!!

  2. Kyle Bartolo says:

    As my children grow older (now 10 and 14), I am more aware of this concept. They are starting to have to deal with their struggles by themselves more and more. I think perseverance is one of the best qualities we can encourage our children to develop, and perseverance grows only in troubled soil. We also try to encourage our kids to grieve over a situation, but then, in their own time, find a way to move on. A concrete example of this is when a pet dies. Some parents do not want pets because they want to avoid pain of saying goodbye to them someday. I think that learning to say goodbye is important. Our children will certainly have to face harder goodbyes someday.
    Thanks, Ellen. Great food for thought.

  3. yitzchak h says:

    BETWEEN A ROCK & FORCLOSURE, IRS LEINS, ETC..the wife insists on borrowing from family etc to keep the kids happy. she is reasonable, but the funds aren’t there. i believe that kids are able to be creative & keep themselves busy instead of saying i’m bored. i’m beyond my vessel (so to speak) doing everything possible no to go crazy when a check bounces. it is easier for me to say no when the kids ask, but my wife does’t want them to think or feel “lacking” (read: poor)
    i didn’t grow up expecting much, it is a different world now.

  4. C. Larry Fancher says:

    My children are both grown and are now having to deal with saying “NO” to their own children. Sometimes the “NO” word is how you really show how much you love your childre,

  5. Reading the above comments from EM made me smile. I think it’s great that she is minimizing the things her children could have. This is probably difficult and will be beneficial for them.
    My wife and I are going to Guatemala in August as Missionaries. Our children (4 year old twins) will have no TV, no Gameboys, no video games, etc. I say this not to diminish what EM is doing, but simply to remind myself that suffering, and minimizing hardship is all relative. My children will have much less than her’s, and the better for it, but will still have to deal with hardships in other ways. They just will hear the word “no” less because we will live in a culture where we will still be living far above and in excess to the normal Mayan experience.
    I think it is hard to raise a child in the American culture who will appreciate all the excesses we have, and how little we suffer. I appreciate any parent, like EM, who tries to fight the battle while living here.

  6. Cynthia Bruni says:

    Having grown up with plenty and only one sibling left me ill-equipped to deal with the economic realities of raising six children on one income (my husband’s). Although my experience may be extreme, I now can see that my children are better prepared for facing life’s challenges and uncertain demands. They take very little for granted as I did as a child.
    Hats off to you Ellen for daring to write this kind of article in our consumer-obsessed society
    which leads to the kind of entitlement attitude in so many children (and adults) today.

  7. just so NO
    and start the spankings 🙂

  8. Karen Allen says:

    I love this response! Repeating…over and over, in a calm voice, “I love you, and the answer is NO”. Having a tantrum is a choice they make and I explain that to them. They can’t appreciate a “yes” if there is never a “no”. Working at eliminating the word “but” from my vocabulary has also lessened conflicts.

  9. I had to come back and reply to Don and Yitzchak. Yitzchak hit the nail on the head about creativity. “I’m bored” are words rarely heard in my house. My kids know I don’t like to hear those words! My kids love to draw, paint, play wildly imaginative games with action figures (Ironman and Spiderman go to prom with the Barbies etc.)..they use socks as suitcases and stuff them with money they make. They use old clothes to host crazy fashions shows. They put on and tape silly skits. They make the action figures birthday cards, build “houses” and host parties for them. My 7 year old is very interested in weather. We’re constantly “following” hurricane and tornado stories and watching the skies outside. I could go on and on. My point is that video games and television can kill creativity. Don, your children will have the time of their lives on your trip to Guatemala! The opportunity to fully experience nature, the culture…Enjoy and I wish you a safe journey. Sorry for babbling!

  10. David Bowland says:

    The response by Karen Allen is great as it is short and clear. I love you and the answer is no. I have to say that money has nothing to do with raising children well in my opinion. i have been equally sad and depressed with and without money and equally happy, healthy and vibrant with and without money. The problem i see in my parenting is using money to try to create happiness or create love. Of course money or gifts does not create love and that is the real problem. Buying things is easy. Being a loving, giving and at times boundary-setting parent is harder. And that really seems to be where the difference lay.

  11. I need all the strength of all of you! We have an “only” and have dealt with 2 losses so we have tried to give him everything we can. It is such a mistake and I’m having a hard time not giving in to him. He has high functioning autism and that has played a role, but I feel I have let it play too much of a role. My child can get extremely out of control and I don’t know what to do – I know we (mostly me) has created this, but I need to fix it!!! Any suggestions??

  12. Cyd,
    Wow – you’re off to a great start – admitting you have an issue and asking for help! Next forgive yourself and your husband and start making the changes right away – and if you slide back forgive again and start again – you can do it!
    Balance, boundaries, love and getting help from professionals and those who love you are great places to start. You should also look in your community for a parents helping parents type organization that can provide support for children with autism. God Bless!

  13. We as a nation have made it very easy for our kids. It is time that we as adults learned how to use the word no. It seems to me that the idea of giving your kids everything you didn’t have or saying that “nothing is too good for our kid” has gotten out of control. I read a lot of the responses here and realize that I am not the only one who has seen this trend. I am glad to see that we are making attempts to correct this.

  14. TreciaD. says:

    We want for our children what we want for ourselves; to live a happy life. Eating a chocolate bar is surely a pleasure. A new toy is exciting and fun. Yes, the timing may be right to say yes to either. However, what have we determined makes up a happy life for ourselves?The ancient Greeks philosphers discussed this point extensively. Is happiness the pleasant life? The engaged life? Or a life filled with purpose and meaning? Aristotle put forth in his treatise on ethics that the happy life is one well-lived; a virtuous, meaningful, or purpose-driven life, which he called eudaimonia and is the “highest of all good achievable by human action (Ryff 1989 p. 1070).” Aristotle further defined happiness as “an activity of the soul in accordance with rationality and virtue (Baltes & Freund, 2002, p. 249).” He argued that eudaimonia and the pleasures inherent in life, hedonia, make up the two components of happiness. The pursuit of happiness is not the pursuit of selfish hedonism (the immediate feelings of pleasure) nor is pleasure absent in the pursuit of a virtuous and meaningful life. It is both, a life lived “pleasantly and prudently, well and justly (Epicurus 300 B.C.).” When we say no to the temptation of the candy bar at the checkout stand, we are teaching our children to delay gratification. When we say “put it on your birthday or Christmas list or you can save and use your allowance” to a child who is tempted by a toy while shopping at Target, we are teaching anticipatory planning and future-mindness. These qualities, delaying gratification and the ability to picture a desired future and plan accordingly, are some of the character traits necessary in the pursuit of Aristotle’s eudamonia.
    Which do you desire for yourself and your children? A life filled with only positive, pleasureable emotions; never feeling disappointed, angry or sad? Or a life filled with engagement and purpose and meaning as well as pleasure that comes from the ability to say yes to some things and no to others?
    Trecia D.
    Mother of three, 12, 10 & 7.
    Master of Applied Positive Psychology ’08
    University of Pennsylvania

  15. hi,
    iam so happy to hear this because i always it thought that iam the only one putting restrictions on my children .and i always felt that iam hindering their personality i see most of the children spending money to buy various things and i used feel guilty about providing those things to my i can proudly say and confidently say no to my children.

  16. same as leela, I’m so happy to know that we’re not the only who have done some of restrictions. It was really not easy the first time we did it, but we do hope that someday the children will learn to understand why we as parents have such kind of policy. thanks Ellen for bringing us to think :). greeting from us here in germany 🙂

  17. (Witness any harried parent at the candy-laden checkout counter with a child in the front of her shopping cart. Saying “no” can be downright embarrassing!)

    Really? I think that saying “yes” is more of an embarassment, when a parent gives in to a whining, begging child.

    I’ve never thought about the opinions of strangers around me when parenting my child. I’ve given my daughter a time-out in the middle of a store. Did she cry and disturb the other shoppers? Yes, she sure did. Was I embarassed? No way. She needed a swift consequence to her actions, it couldn’t wait until we got home. Did I ever have a problem with her in that store again? Nope.

    I knew a friend who bought her child a balloon every time they went grocery shopping because then the child “allowed” her to shop peacefully. She didn’t realize that she was perpetuating the problem. He begged for something each time they went shopping because she gave him something each time they went shopping. He came to expect that balloon.

  18. David Bowland says:


    i have swomethign to say that i would ask you to pass on to your husband. i wouldnt take the time to write this if i didnt care and i can say this only because, as a father and husband, i have struggled to best support my wife in raising our son (4 years old now).
    Dear Cyd’s Husband: as the man in my family, i take on the job of setting the tone. I set the boundaries, especially with respect to what is good for our son to do and what is detrimental. My wife is a very loving and compassionate woman and she is ever focused on nurturing and loving our son. So when he does something that would be bad for his life, whether it be running out in a parking lot without an adult hand or demanding a toy at the store, i have set the boundaries firmly and clearly. When i am not there, my wife must simply point out the boundary that i have already set and my son knows that there will be no discussion or argument. It sounds like cyd might need you to set these boundaries clearly, firmly and lovingly. She is dealing with taking care of your son who will need help to find his way in a society that is not that accepting of someone being different. She needs your strength and love to support her and your son to find happiness and peace. I may be wrong. This is just my hallucination. I speak only from my own experience. No matter what, i wish you the best and all the happiness and love in the world. Dave

  19. Cindy Lietz, Polymer Clay Tutor says:

    Ellen I have been following your blog for a long while now, and each time I ‘pop in’ and read an article it makes me feel as though I’m on the right track as a parent. So thank you!

    I think it is very important for children to be able to cope with disappointments and successes. To be grateful for what they have and strive for something better.

    A child needs to be able to feel all the feelings, good and bad, so they learn how to deal with the emotions with maturity.

    I think that parents are so worried that their children will be sad or disappointed, that they over protect them and over indulge them. This gives the child no skills to deal with the ups and downs of adulthood.

    This leads to kids becoming problem adults with debt-issues, responsibility issues, addictions etc. which has become a huge problem in our society.

  20. therese says:

    I have used something that has always worked since they were little. When my kids wanted something and I would not get it for them or could not get it for them my answer would be ” No you cannot have that now but one day you can. After a while when I would say no, my kids would then follow up on their own and say “but one day can we have it and I would say yes”