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What is the 'right' age to talk about happiness with children?

Updated: Jan 4

Willow the Wonderer is an enchanting picture book about the search for happiness. It has been wonderful to see the warmth with which our readers have embraced the picture book since it release, with Willow the Wonderer maintaining a five star rating for10 straight months now. A question that has come up a number of times in reviews and conversations though is 'what is the right age to talk about happiness with children? Is it too deep and philosophical a subject for the young ones?' These question goes to the heart of why Darren and I decided to pick up our pens and pencils and produce the Willow the Wonderer picture books. We share our thoughts below.

Willow the Wonderer is a genre defying children's book

Willow the Wonderer is an enchanting picture book about the search for happiness. It is beautifully illustrated, has quirky rhymes and even makes counting fun.

It also tackles the most existential of all questions in our human experience - what is happiness and where can we find it?

The book is by no means a definitive guide to happiness … but it does offer our readers a resolution. The story ends with an insight into the nature and source of happiness - or as we like to think of it, a seed of wisdom on happiness.

What is the right age to talk about happiness with children?

A questions that has come up a number of times is whether it is too early to be discussing the 'deeper philosophy' about happiness with young children?

It's a fair question and goes to the heart of why Darren and I produced this picture book in the first place:

We feel that it's never too early to plant seeds of wisdom in young minds.

Here's why.

The stories we read as children leave an indelible mark

I can say from my own lived experience that the children's books that I read as a child have been amongst the most influential in my life. Even if there were elements that I was not able to intellectually grasp or explain at the time, at some level it became embedded in my psyche and influenced - rightly or wrongly - my outlook on life.

It's those childhood conditionings that have also been the hardest to change in my adult years.

The childrens' books that we read when young leave an indelible mark - so why not leave positive markers?

Happiness is hardly a new subject in children's literature

The idea of happiness features time and time again in the classic children's books, cartoons and movies we've all grown up with. It's hardly a new topic.

Remember all those 'happily ever after' stories?

Seducing us with magic and the enduring drama of good versus evil, these stories also subliminally planted the idea that everlasting happiness arises after one, having overcome all hardships, ends up with substantial wealth and fortune, fame and beauty, and ideally, a partner endowed in all of the above.

Consciously and unconsciously we find ourselves chasing this dream well into our adulthood ... until the inevitable vicissitudes of life (and a fair amount of suffering) finally teaches us to recognise the deeper wisdom of life.

The grand narratives we grew up with are incomplete

Before we started working on the picture book, Darren and I had quite a few DMCs (deep and meaning conversations) about our lives; this was during the first COVID lockdown so we had plenty of time on our hands.

We couldn't help but feel that 'grand narratives' we had grown up with had let us down. At best they were incomplete and at worst, utterly misleading.

This became the raison d'être for us to pick up our pens and sharpen our pencils to start working on Willow the Wonderer - a a story that we wish we'd grown up with.

On reflection I think the biggest issue with the grand narratives in our societies is they only tell one side of the story; the emphasis it seems more often than not is on finding fulfillment through 'acquiring' things, whether it be wealth, property or relationships.

To be clear, I do not think that there is anything wrong with wanting to be financially stable and having all the comforts of life, including the company of a loving partner.

However, it's also possible that these things, by themselves, don't bring about lasting contentment. Indeed our Western societies are full of people who have achieved all the above - yet still suffer greatly from lack of contentment (and so they keep on acquiring more and more). Mental illness has also grown to be biggest health issue of our time.

I remember a mystic once humourously point out that the current generation of humans have the most material comforts than any before them - yet we are also the most miserable to have every lived!

So what's missing?

There are other narratives out there which have a markedly different emphasis. They can be found through the ages in both, Western philosophical traditions and Eastern contemplative traditions.

Instead of asking us to look externally and focus on acquiring things, they suggest that we look within and deeply examine our inner experience as human beings.

In doing so they ask us to recognise the incredible faculty that we have as conscious beings to not only create but also control our own mental states, and ultimately shape our inner experience.