Can We Learn to Make Ourselves Happy?: The Role Helicopter Parenting Plays in Stifling Our Growth

“Fortune sometimes favors villains and turns against good people. That’s why our happiness should depend on our own decisions, not the vagaries of chance.” -Massimo Pigliucci

Creating Spoiled Brats

Helicopter parents have a done a terrible thing: they’ve created a generation of children who can’t tolerate the word ‘no’. Happiness, to them, depends on acquiring whatever their hearts desire whenever they desire it. But when they get it, they’ll enjoy it for some time, and then search for the next thing. For them, life is fairly lifeless, as nothing ever fully satiates their unrelenting thirst.

Unfortunately, I was one of those kids. Because I received whatever I wanted, I never actually valued anything I had. Most of my possessions were throw-aways, things I never found myself being really attached to. And my work-ethic, at the time, simply encompassed incessant demands. So, as you can imagine, I wasn’t a very happy child, even though that seems so counterintuitive.

What more could I, or any kid, want when I was already given everything I wanted?

Never Mastering the World

I’ve noted before that many of our emotional struggles link back to self-esteem; for, feeling good about ourselves is a major motivator of a great deal of our actions. Thus, we enjoy the fruits of our labor because attaining them makes us feel proud of ourselves. That isn’t to say that they can’t make us happy when they’re unearned, but that that happiness is transient.

So, when I was just granted what I wanted, I never had the chance to experience a sense of self-efficacy, the belief that I mastered my environment. And that’s what helicopter parents take away from their children. As they grow up into adulthood, they tend to feel empty and worthless, unable to experience any semblance of self-worth, or very little of it. Without a background of achievements, they feel lost in a world that pulses with success, unable to taste its yearned for nectar.

When they do grow up, they quickly realize that the world doesn’t owe them anything, and that they’ll never be exempt from suffering. But in a childhood secluded from the real-world, they miss out on attempting to deal with everyday struggles and creating ways to make themselves happy; they then expect others to do it for them, placing excessive pressures on those around them.

How Can I Make Myself Happy?

I wrote this blog post as a way to remind myself, as well as others, that happiness is within my grasp and that no one out there owes it to me. Fortune, external chance, sometimes favors me but often doesn’t. Consequently, if I begin to rely too much on others’ approval, attention, and acquiescence, I’ll be miserable when I don’t get it. Helicopter parenting teaches that we simply have to be in order to acquire, instilling the delusion that we can have anything we want by merely wanting it, thus solidifying the likelihood of long-term misery.

While pondering my own sense of entitlement, I wondered if there was a way to make myself happy without overly-relying on others’ actions. And I came across stoic philosophy. To the stoics, and other philosophers such as Boethius, fortune existed on a wheel, whose presentations perpetually alternated. To be stuck on the hedonic treadmill meant that, at least half of the time, we’d be unhappy. But the stoics discovered a better way to live, which they subsequently passed down to us.

Creating Multiple Sources of Meaning

As a therapist, the clients I see struggling the most are those who zero-in on, or overly identify with, their love-lives or careers. Because so much of those areas is outside of our control, obsessing over any one eventually becomes detrimental to one’s emotional well-being.

So, the solution is to create meaning in multiple areas, wherein if you were to lose one, you’d still have others to find joy in. Some misconceive of meaning in an all or nothing way, as though if you were to infuse it in one area, you’d then have to abandon all the others. Not only is that untrue, but it’s also a toxic way of thinking. A great example is the person who spends most of their time trying to make their partner happy only to find out that their loved-one has been cheating. Sadness, in that case, is healthy, but devastation isn’t. The individual who’s able to look to her friends, her work, and even her interests for comfort is able to cope with the loss better than the one who’s left with nothing and no one else to turn to.

Finding Happiness in Who We Are

Although we can’t control the outcomes, our efforts are constantly within our grasp, and I try to remind myself and others that resilience should be the focus, because it alone defines one’s character. Remember that you can always control how many times you get back up after you’ve been beaten down, and that happiness can stem from your drive as much as it does from your achievements. A healthy life is one which entails some combination of friends, family, romantic love, professional success, and significance in one’s community, as well as the ability to like oneself because of her qualities (instead of overly focusing on her achievements). To lose one will never be inconsequential, but it’s up to you to manage the loss’s intensity, and therein to find your power.

As I still find myself struggling to grow up, patience remains life’s biggest hurdle, and I still hate it when I fail. But to deal with it, I recall my dedication and the effort that went in to my achievements. For without both, the resultant glory would be unworthy of its name.

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