The Secret to Raising Happy Kids

When I ask my children where they want to go, I mean it. I want them to dream big and travel far. I want their answers to not match. I want them to have a Bucket List and Someday Dream. And then? I want them to go.
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When they enter the room it changes. They take Brody's and my quiet of two, to what we're more used to. Voices threading -- competing even -- moments told, laughter shared. My goodness, that laughter. It's rich and thick and filled with the story they already share, and the one I hope they always will.

The girls just got home from school, their loud words and tired eyes are full of 2nd and 4th grades. I dole out afternoon snacks. Apple slices, pretzel chips, Mason jars of water that I can't seem to keep full enough.

My after school questions are always the same and, for now, they answer them willingly. I know enough to be grateful for this, to breathe it in, to know that it just might be the last time information passes so very willingly from their lips to my heart.

2013-09-25-happykids.jpg Photo via Galit Breen

Years ago, when Jason and I were long distance, we'd spend hours -- and hours -- on the phone, threading our own story until it, too, became shared. I'd often ask him what he was thinking and in the beginning, this threw him off. My debate team star husband, whose teachers had written more than once, needs to share the floor with others in neat print on old report cards, was silenced by this question. He didn't know, hadn't thought about it. It's a good thing he got over that silence, or we wouldn't be where we are today. Three kids and nary a quiet moment with our thoughts -- ever.

My kids, too, are used to my questions and I'd like to think even look forward to them. After we discuss the day's important details: How was lunch, recess, friends, teachers? -- their present stories -- I sweep them toward their future and ask, Where would you go if you could go anywhere at all?

2013-09-25-Greece2.jpg Photo via Galit Breen, Greece 2013 with People to People

Jason and I have played this game for years. This step into what-ifs is golden; a lantern lit on inner thoughts and hearts and wants. A more magical and fun version of What are you thinking?

At our wedding shower, we played a game where Jason and I sat back to back and answered the same questions. The game was to see -- in front of all of our friends and loved ones -- how well our answers matched. This was before society scolded the need to respect Introverts and how fast our hearts race at this sort of thing, so we played. Backs to each other, hearts on display. One of the questions was Where would you go if you could go anywhere? We both wrote our answers down quickly, no pauses, no second guesses.

My sweet guy's answer was that he'd go to Israel to meet my Saba and Safta, my grandparents. And mine? Was Italy. Oy. The room warmed with laughter when the answers were revealed. And this, too, was the kind of laughter that felt good to share. Past and present and future stories colliding and shoving their way toward some sort of an ending, or at the very least the next chapter told.

Jason's and my answers haven't changed; we've yet to take these golden trips, and I can't wait until we do. Setting foot on new ground, tasting new food, shaking hands lined by different work and kissed beneath a different sun is life-changing.

2013-09-25-Greece4.jpg Photo via Galit Breen, Greece 2013 with People to People

Shawn Achor, New York Times bestselling author of Before Happiness and CEO of GoodThink, says, "Happiness isn't the belief that we don't need to change, it's the belief that we can change. In The Happiness Advantage I define happiness as the joy we feel striving for our potential. That means that we, and our children, are happiest when we feel like there is potential that we can still achieve and that we're moving in the right direction."

So when I ask my children where they want to go, I mean it. I want them to dream big and travel far. I want their answers to not match. I want them to have a Bucket List and Someday Dream. And then? I want them to go.

Their answers come at me in the way always do: Everyone answers at once, voices braiding, telling the story of what it's like to be in a family of five.

Fall sunshine slices through the open window. Our puggle, Louie, sleeps at my feet. Dinner and sports and laundry and bedtime can wait -- there are dreams to be shared here.

Brody's answer is immediate. China. Of course. He's been obsessed with China since Jason traveled there for work. When he came home -- tired and rumpled and happy in the way that only traveling can leave you -- he slipped a Chinese coin into Brody's hand. "You can spend this when you go." He said, leaning down, knees to carpet, eyes to heart. Their heads were nestled close; his chocolate strands bold against Brody's shocking shade of gold. Brody wrapped his tiny fingers around that coin, looked into Jason's eyes, and nodded. Their deal was sealed.

Chloe's answer comes just as quickly: Israel. Like Jason, she's curious about my story and the parts of it I've woven into hers. My eyes soften at my girl whose sentimentality is sometimes trumped by her sass and her fierce, but is, indeed, always there.

And Kayli's answer is last. She's thoughtful and deliberate. Rome. Greece. Italy. Maybe India. We laugh together in a shared way because this thirst, I get. We're cut from the same cloth and my heart warms over -- twice -- at the thought of my girl living a traveler's life. I can't wait to hear about your travels, is all I say back. She doesn't need my approval, and this, too, I love.

2013-09-25-Greece1.jpg Photo via Galit Breen, Greece 2013 with People to People

This summer I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Greece with People to People, a program that sends kids like mine -- like yours -- abroad. They send them young and far and stretch their minds and hearts until they've changed, in the best possible ways.

On one of my last nights I asked the kids to write about their experience so far. To share what traveling is to them. Inspiring. Life-changing. Fun. These are the words they wrote. Not surprising, right? But what struck me most, is what came after these initial thoughts. 17-year-old Tayler Mitchell wrote, "I've discovered that I'm LIMITLESS." And that, is the power of travel.

2013-09-25-peopletopeople.jpg Photo via Galit Breen, Greece 2013 with People to People

Achor says, "Children who believe that they have a high potential continue to strive and as a result we get to see more of what their brain is capable of accomplishing. True happiness requires both a gratitude for the present but also a deep-seated aspiration for the future." Limitless, indeed.

In an ironic twist of fate, the second leg of the Greece trip was to Italy. Can you believe it? I didn't go, I couldn't leave my family for so long, but I will go one day (soon) and this is what I share with my children. Dream big, travel far.

I'm grateful to have had the chance to taste Greece three times. First, through my own eyes, then as a photojournalist for the kids I traveled with, and now as the storyteller for the program and for traveling.

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