Saturday, November 14, 2009

Cultivating other-centeredness

By Maureen Healy
Cultivating other-centeredness is central to happiness. It is the ability to think of others. Other-centeredness is in stark contrast to self-centeredness. Self-centeredness is when you are only thinking of yourself. Buddhists commonly believe that the more you think of others, the happier you are. In other words, it is skillful to cultivate other-centeredness even if it is for your own personal benefit or happiness.

Self Centeredness = Pain 

Eastern thinking even goes as far to say the more you think of yourself, the more pain you are likely to experience. The more you think of others, the happier you are. So how do we get children to begin thinking of others from the get-go? Like most meaningful questions the answers aren’t completely easy but here are some tips:
  • Model thinking of others – No surprise here. Kids imprint what they see, hear and see around them. Becoming a person that makes focusing upon others a priority will naturally help your child develop an other-centric attitude. For example, Joanna the mom takes her daughter, Anna age 5, to volunteer at a women’s shelter monthly. Anna stated “I love it” and it “feels so good to help others.” A simple example but also one that has the potential to have a lasting and positive effect.
  • Encourage generosity with others – Depending upon the age, temperament, family dynamic and parenting approach, some kids share really easily while others have a terrible time with it! Guiding your child to positively share is positive parenting. You might say to your child: “Sharing helps others” and “Someday you might want someone to share with you, so let’s start sharing today.” Such sayings are easier with kids over 5 years old but possible for every child.
  • Praise a child’s efforts to expand awareness – Children learn to share from little things to bigger things over time. Young children (ages 3-5) often learn how to share with animals or display kindness, middle-aged children (5-8 yrs old) learn to share with other kids easier and older children (ages 8-12) often can begin learning to share in school, with family members and the community. Being able to teach sharing in steps helps children raise awareness from self, self to animal, self to peers and self to others.
  • Observe positive results – Children that share consistently and repeatedly are learning skills of positive emotional health. Amy, age 8, shared her eraser with her friend, Joey, in school. Later on she reported to me, it made me feel good. When I can help others, I do it because it makes me happy, Amy added. With some age-appropriate nudging, kids can really learn to consistently share and think of others.
  • Be creative and have fun – Encourage thinking about others in purposeful and playful ways such as: baking cookies for your local fire department or bringing someone sick something to eat or making “Get Well” or “Happy Thanksgiving” cards for friends, family members, teachers or a new pen pal. It doesn’t need to cost a lot to gently guide your child to begin thinking beyond him or herself.
Other-centeredness = Happiness

Every child is born thinking of his or her self. It is natural. Guiding a child to begin expanding his or her awareness is helping a child plant seeds of lasting happiness, not fleeting happiness like an ice cream cone. But true and lasting happiness that comes from inner peace. It doesn’t happen overnight but is a practice. It is a day-by-day and week-by-week practice to guide and encourage your child to share, display kindness, practice generosity and think of others.

Every parent and child has the opportunity to grow kinder, wiser and happier as the days fly by. I understand it isn’t always easy. My work often brings me children who want deeply to be happy but are taking a crooked route to get there – my suggestion is that in anyway you can help a child learn how to think of others, cultivate other-centeredness versus self-centeredness – you are giving them an enormous gift and secret piece of the happiness puzzle that will serve them their whole lives. I promise.

by Maureen Healy
Maureen is the founder of Growing Happy Kids, a worldwide organization focused upon fostering happiness in children.