The Happy Formula for Successful Kids

Two children smiling

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Dolphin Parenting

If you want to raise happy and successful kids, model the traits of a dolphin, says Shawn Achor, author of Before Happiness and The Happiness Advantage, and Harvard researcher. Be playful, friendly, intelligent and social. Dolphin parents raise positive kids, and that sets the stage for future success, Shawn says.

Many parents think success first, happiness second, but that’s not how it works. Happiness fuels success and not the other way around, Achor says. The problem with putting success before happiness is that success is a moving target—once you achieve a victory (something you thought would bring happiness) you push the goalpost out, so happiness keeps getting pushed over the horizon. The same philosophy applies to your kids.

Parents can increase the likelihood of raising successful kids by focusing on creating a positive environment for their kids because happiness and optimism fuel performance and achievement. “Cultivating positive brains makes us more motivated, efficient, resilient, creative and productive, which drives performance,” Shawn says.

To embrace dolphin parenting, Shawn says you need to prioritize happiness and positivity in the present. Here are some ways to do it:

  • Create a positive environment for your kids by modeling optimism. Remember that the lens through which you see the world shapes your reality—and the reality for your kids.
  • Teach your kids to openly express gratitude for three things a day—at the dinner table or before they go to bed each night. Encourage your kids to come up with new things each day. “It gets their brains to operate from a positive place, think about their strengths and cultivate optimism.”
  • Exercise a little bit each day. “Exercise teaches your brain that what you do matters,” Achor says.
  • Encourage your kids to journal about positive experiences. They get to relive happy memories.
  • Make learning fun. Instead of rewarding your kids after they finish homework (delayed gratification), look for creative ways to make the process of doing their homework more enjoyable.
  • Encourage your kids to connect and create deep social support with their friends.
  • Change how your kids view stress. Help them see stress as a challenge and not a threat.
  • Show your kids how to be open to possibilities and make goals attainable. Focus on the positive by reminding kids of past accomplishments to fuel future accomplishments. Break those bigger goals into smaller objectives so kids are encouraged and goals seem reachable.
  • Have your child write a positive note to someone in their life.
  • Have fun and smile.

“What we really want is not only to get parents to teach these habits to children, but to model the habits. As the parent becomes more peaceful, calm, compassionate and positive, it becomes easier for the child to respond and do these things as well,” Shawn says.

The key is to cultivate happiness in the present moment. When kids are happy and have a positive outlook, success is likely to follow, Shawn says. “When we believe positivity is important in the present, I think we will see a very different future.”


Sandra Bienkowski, owner of The Media Concierge, LLC, is a national writer of wellness and personal development content and a social media expert.

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