So what’s on the kid’s Christmas wish list this year? The latest Wii, Ipod, mobile phone, notebook, bike or top designer gear? Or maybe they have all those already and it’s a struggle to find something different or special?

As parents, godparents, aunts, uncles or family friends, it might be useful for us all to reflect on what is known about what really makes people happy. Martin Seligman, considered the founder of positive psychology, talks about aspiring for the ‘full life’ – one of pleasure, engagement and meaning. His theory is backed up by a wealth of research.
Sure, all the pleasure, fun and excitement experienced by young people, and us older ones, when we receive our Christmas presents is great! It’s what Christmas is all about isn’t it?
In reality though the positive emotions we experience are only going to be short-lived. We all adapt very quickly to our circumstances including our wealth, looks and the ‘things’ around us. In no time at all, even within hours, we will soon become less satisfied at best and at worst the negative emotions of jealousy and envy kick in as we realise someone else has something newer, bigger, better or smarter.
So pleasure is good, but on it’s own it’s not enough.
If we really want our children to flourish and to give our families and friends ongoing happiness and well-being we need to think about how we can encourage them to have more engagement and meaning in their lives. How can we get everyone involved in challenging and stretching activities that promote personal long-term growth and develop their strengths, self-confidence and self-esteem? Better still, how can we encourage people, particularly the young, to feel that most positive of emotions – gratitude?  Let’s be grateful for what we already have and to start to think about our true purpose in life and what we can do for other people, especially at a time of year which is often a struggle for many. Developing positive relations with other people through acts of kindness and altruism have far more long-lasting effects. The key issue here is that these things all take effort, and making the effort isn’t always fun at the time. It can be hard work, scary, painful even. But the beneficial outcomes for others and ourselves far outweigh the costs.
It might be easier said than done but if we invest a bit of our time and effort learning about what really makes people happy, and then acting on it, we can all make a difference. There’s lots of help out there.
Sonja Lyubormirsky’s book ‘The How of Happiness’ is full of practical ideas. Arrange some challenging and exciting family activity that gets everyone in the ‘flow’ zone. Spend time identifying your families’ strengths by completing the free VIA Strength Surveys at www.authentichappiness.org and then find new ways to go out and use them. Together with the kids, gift some meaningful time to help others, not forgetting the elderly. Why not do something for, or with, some older relatives or neighbours this year?
Practice gratitude purposefully and pay gratitude visits to people who you want to thank. Or even invest some time in coaching for yourself so you are positive and fit for purpose to plan better for next year!
Leading well-being researcher Corey Keyes states that only 20% of people are regarded as truly flourishing. Flourishing people are happier, healthier, more hopeful, have clearer life goals, achieve and contribute more, possess higher levels of resilience in the face of adversity and have much better relationships with those around them.
As the the festive season appoaches, maybe we could all invest the time to consider what happiness really is and how best to achieve it. I am sure that the greatest gift for Christmas and beyond is to help our young people to flourish. Let’s hope that 2010 moves us closer to that aspiration.
Clive Leach is an evidence-based coach, facilitator and trainer working within both the Australian Public Service and the corporate sector. He regularly delivers presentations and workshops on well-being and resilience at work and life in general. He also focuses on exploring the potential for coaching and positive psychology to enhance well-being in young people and youth & community services. He is contributing to a paper titled ‘The Potential Role of Evidence-based Coaching in Enhancing Youth Support Services’ (to be released 2010).  Clive is a graduate of the Master of Organisational Coaching Programme at the Coaching Psychology Unit of Sydney University. He welcomes any opportunities to speak on issues raised in this article. He can be contacted on [email protected]