Can I Be Happy If My Child Is Not?

Sylvia Boorstein answers a reader’s question about how to be happy when her children are not.

Sylvia Boorstein
23 October 2015
Sad doll.
Photo by Rhendi Rukmana.

Dear Sylvia: In a recent Q&A in the “Meet a Teacher” department of Lion’s Roar magazine, you said a motto that represents you is “You are never happier than your least happy child.” Is this always true? My children are chronically miserable for complex reasons. Is there any way for me to find happiness despite this? I love my children above all else in the world.

Answer: Of course you love your children above all else in the world. The Buddha recognized the strength of the mother–child bond when he said, “Just as a mother would give her life for her one and only child, so should we love all beings.” Given the strength of this bond, no wonder your children’s distress is painful to you.

The problem with the motto I chose, “You are never happier than your least happy child,” is with the word never. In the middle of feeling sad because one of my children is having a difficult time, I might spontaneously find myself gladdened when I receive a phone call from a friend, or see a hawk land on my garden fence, or listen to a recording of Joshua Bell playing the Mendelssohn “Violin Concerto.” In all the times I’m not thinking of the situation of distress, my mind gets a chance to rest, and the thought “My beloved person is in pain” becomes less consuming. It remains a true thought, but in a larger field in which it’s not the only truth, it feels easier to accept.

One of the ways I intentionally choose to rest my mind is by meditating. Even a short period of time of sitting quietly and feeling my breath move in and out of my body is helpful. Being in a comfortable space and paying attention to the way the belly pushes forward and then settles back down is both simple and soothing.

When my mind is relaxed, I’m able to think of the person in pain with compassion and to think of myself with compassion, too. Compassion is another form of happiness.


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photo of Sylvia Boorstein

Sylvia Boorstein

Sylvia Boorstein is a psychologist and leading teacher of Insight Meditation. Her many best-selling books include Pay Attention, for Goodness’ Sake and Happiness Is An Inside Job.