Written By: Elizabeth Spencer
A few weeks ago, my teenager told me, “I’m really happy with my life right now. I thought you’d like to know that.”
I certainly did like to know that. And while I was a little surprised my daughter specifically articulated that assessment of her life, I wasn’t actually surprised to hear her say she was happy. I could see it. In her overall moods and in what she had going on, I could see why she was feeling content with her life.
I can’t remember the last time I read an article about happy teenagers. It almost seems like an oxymoron. Sad teenagers? Stressed teenagers? Moody teenagers? Sure…and my own teen has been all of these. Being a teenager is hard. Between hormones and peer pressure and school pressure and figure-out-your-future-now pressure and jam-packed schedules and sleep deprivation and friend issues, “happy” has a lot working against it as a status update.
But I don’t think my daughter’s overall contentment with her life was a fluke or a passing mood. I think it was based on realities that go deeper than circumstances. I think she’s put some pieces of her life’s puzzle together, and the result—right now, anyway—is happiness.
She’s Happy Because She Spends Time Doing Things She Loves
I think my teenager is happy because she regularly spends time pursuing her passions. I tell people they’ve never really met my daughter until they’ve seen her dance. Dance brings out a piece of her nothing else does. She spends several nights a week at her studio, taking and teaching classes. She just joined the dance team at school. These things excite her. They fill up her heart. They give her something to look forward to. And they give her a place to unload all those hormone-fed feelings, which is why “when in doubt, dance it out” is one of our house mottos.
She’s Happy Because She Got Rid of Burdens She Was Carrying
I also think my teen is happy because she recently quit something that was making her unhappy. This was an optional activity she had not already recommitted to, so the choice to be done was there for her. But it was still a hard decision. There were good reasons on either side of the equation. Friendships were a big draw for re-upping for one more year, and I couldn’t argue with that pull.
Eventually, though, the scales in favor of being done started to tip with two realizations: she didn’t like the process of preparing for performance, and she spent most of her time during the pieces of that process trying to guess when they were going to be over. I told her counting down until something is going to be over is too big a waste for an optional activity that’s supposed to be mostly fun. Getting rid of a burden she hadn’t even realized she was carrying not only made my teen feel lighter, but happier.
She’s Happy Because She Understands Her Physical Health is Important
I think my teen is happy because she practices healthy habits. A few weeks ago, I had to take my daughter to the doctor because she was having some odd spells of dizziness and lightheadedness. The doctor didn’t find anything clearly concerning but ran down a list of top-tier culprits. She started to tell my daughter about the importance of hydration and how many ounces of water teens need a day when I gently interrupted to save her time and breath. “My daughter has a daily hydration goal and plan,” I told her.
I explained how my 16-year-old knows how many ounces of water she needs a day based on her body makeup and activity schedule and also how many rounds of her refillable, BPA-free, leakproof water bottle she needs to be through at various points in the day. “Well, alright then,” her doctor told me with a laugh. “Hydration isn’t the problem.”
My girl also gets up every morning to stretch, and she keeps an eye on her sugar and protein intake. She doesn’t get enough sleep (see, “every teenager everywhere”), but she knows it and tries to put herself to bed early when she has the chance. I’m pretty sure feeling well physically goes a long way toward helping her feel well emotionally.
She’s Happy Because She’s Taken the Time to Build True Friendships
I think my teen is happy because she’s done the hard work of building true friendships. High school friendships and especially friendships among girls are notoriously thorny.
My daughter endured many years longing for friends who didn’t come and go. But over time, she’s forged several lasting connections. These are friends she checks up on and who check up on her. Friends she does ordinary life with. Friends she’s connected to even when they don’t see each other in person very often. With them, she’s gotten past mere acquaintanceship and into the nitty-gritty of real relationship.
And it can be gritty. “Priority of relationship” is a repeated refrain. Does my daughter necessarily want to go to a soccer game just because a boy her friend is interested in is on the team and the friend doesn’t want to go alone? Probably not, but…priority of relationship. Is it tricky to work in face-to-face time over a quick dinner squeezed in between school and practices and homework? Probably, but…priority of relationship. These deep-level friendships steady my daughter. They anchor her when the seas of teenage life are stormy. They are a fixed point. And they make her happy.
She’s Happy Because She’s “Others-Focused”
I think my teenager is happy because she invests herself beyond herself. She’s the reason we carry a two-gallon zip-top plastic bag filled with granola bars and bottled water and fast-food gift cards in our car, for the people we regularly see standing on corners at busy intersections in our city. She switched from student council to the National Honor Society because she didn’t have time for both and felt NHS was more community-service oriented. She gets up at 6:30 every Sunday morning so she can come with us to church and watch our worship team members’ children in the nursery while their parents practice.
Teenagers are sometimes cast as self-obsessed, and my teen does spend plenty of time on herself: hair, clothes, makeup, overall “look,” and presentation. But many of our big kids are also admirably others-focused, and that is all to their good. Turning her attention and energy outward resets my daughter’s perspective and evens out her happiness-to-unhappiness ratio.
I’m not deluding myself into thinking “happy” is going to be my daughter’s status report on her life from here on out. I know, though, that there are parents of older kids who’ve never heard this kind of life assessment from their children. I’m so grateful for this privilege in this season. And I’m thankful that the reasons behind my teenager’s self-reported happiness go beyond what’s true today and lend hope to what might be true tomorrow.
Elizabeth Spencer is mom to two daughters (one teen and one young adult) who regularly dispense love, affection, and brutally honest fashion advice. She writes about faith, food, and family (with some occasional funny thrown in) at Guilty Chocoholic Mama and avoids working on her 100-year-old farmhouse by spending time on Facebook and Twitter.