Weekly Program
Happy 101

Colleen Russo Johnson, PhD

Chief Scientist

Key Takeaways:
  • Happiness is a great starting point for teaching children how to identify and express emotions.
  • Go on a happiness hunt -- can you spot signs of happiness in yourself, in others, or in characters from books or movies?
  • Discuss what makes your child happy and identify the different ways in which you can make others feel happy.

Happiness is a good starting place for talking about emotions - everyone has some experience with it, and who doesn't love to share a laugh? Happiness is a universal emotion, yet individual expressions of happiness tend to vary. Your happy place might be napping in a hammock, whereas your child's happy place might be playing a drum kit next to you as you rest. Similarly, happiness can manifest in laughter or in tears.

Developing a concept of what happiness looks, feels, and sounds like, both for your child and for others, is a key component of children's broader emotional understanding. This ultimately makes them more successful at communicating and regulating their emotions, and in turn, relating to others.1

Although happiness feels good, it's important to remember that it's only one of the many emotions we experience daily. It's not better than any other emotion; it has its own place, like all of our other emotions. When we learn to appreciate and value all of our emotions, our lives are more colorful - why choose only one crayon when you could draw a masterpiece with the whole box?

How to Help Your Child Identify Happiness?

  • Explain to your child that when someone is smiling or laughing, that person is likely happy!
  • Discuss how it's possible to feel different levels of happiness. For instance, sometimes we feel content, and sometimes we feel cheerful.
  • Identify internal and external things that make your child feel happy. For example, "I feel happy when I finish reading a book, and I also feel happy when it's a sunny day!"
  • Remind your child that happiness can look slightly different for everyone (e.g., some people cry when they are happy).
  • You can also discuss how someone can feel happiness at the same time as other emotions (e.g., you may be happy about going to school and playing with your friends, while also feeling a little nervous or sad).

What Can You Do at Home?

  • Talk. Ask your child to share what makes them happy. Reflect on your day and talk about the happy moments. Discuss which characters in a book look happy, and why.
  • Happy Watch. Identify the specific facial expressions, body language, and noises that your child expresses when they're feeling happy, and look for them in others.
  • Physical Expressions. Experiment with different ways of experiencing happiness in the body (e.g., jumping for joy, shouting to the rooftops, singing, silently swaying to music).
  • Laugh. The act of laughing together can increase feelings of happiness. And children's laughter is often contagious!

Written by Colleen Russo Johnson
Co-Founder and Chief Scientist @ OK Play


  1. Streubel, B., Gunzenhauser, C., Grosse, G., & Saalbach, H. (2020). Emotion-specific vocabulary and its contribution to emotion understanding in 4- to 9-year-old children. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 193.
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