Will My Gifted Kid Ever Be Truly Happy?

photo courtesy of London Scout, Unsplash
photo courtesy of London Scout, Unsplash

It’s complicated. Your children think, feel, analyze, imagine, worry, debate, empathize and perceive more than average kiddos. That’s life in the rainforest mind. MOREness.

And, with super high standards, high expectations and a tendency to keep raising the bar, there’s not much time to appreciate an accomplishment before they’re onto the next thing. Add to that a tendency toward self-criticism due to an innate desire for excellence and an ability to notice and remember, for all eternity, every tiny mistake. This is not what happiness looks like.

Not to mention, curiosity and interests in, well, everything, so that your children are in constant motion gobbling up every intellectually appealing thing in sight. Is there time for happiness? Maybe not. Too busy gobbling.

Of course, yes, your children will experience happiness. But it’s not that simple. They will likely feel glee and zeal and despair and rage. Maybe all in the same day. The same hour. They can feel excitement, guilt, existential depression, enthusiasm and anxiety. And happiness, yes. But it may not be the simple, peaceful, one-size-fits-all variety of happiness.*

And, that’s OK. The way it should be. Maybe happiness is over-rated. Perhaps we ought to aim for something else. Curiosity. Gratitude. Occasional Irrepressible Glee.


So, next time your in-laws ask you why your children aren’t happy, you can tell them, “We’re not aiming for happiness, doncha know. Pfft. That is soooo 20th century. Curiosity, gratitude and occasional irrepressible glee are the new happiness.”



To my bloggEEs: What do you think about happiness? For your kids? For yourself? Let us know your thoughts, feelings and questions. And thank you, as always, for being here. Just a friendly reminder: MY BOOK will be available around June 27, 2016. Details are here. And I’ll be talking about it online in July at Intergifted.

*Note: If you have a male child or if you are a male, all of this may be even more complicated by the societal rules against sensitivity and emotional expression in boys and men. But that’s a whole other blog post.


Author: Paula Prober

I’m a psychotherapist and consultant in private practice based in Eugene, Oregon. I specialize in international consulting with gifted adults and parents of gifted children. I’ve been a teacher and an adjunct instructor at the University of Oregon and a frequent guest presenter at Oregon State University and Pacific University. I’ve written articles on giftedness for the Eugene Register-Guard, the Psychotherapy Networker, Advanced Development Journal and online for psychotherapy dot net, Rebelle Society, Thrive, Introvert Dear, and Highly Sensitive Refuge. My first book, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, is a collection of case studies of gifted clients along with many strategies and resources for gifted adults and teens. My second book, Journey Into Your Rainforest Mind: A Field Guide for Gifted Adults and Teens, Book Lovers, Overthinkers, Geeks, Sensitives, Brainiacs, Intuitives, Procrastinators, and Perfectionists is a collection of my most popular blog posts along with writing exercises for self-exploration and insight.

17 responses to “Will My Gifted Kid Ever Be Truly Happy?”

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  1. Gabi Montoya-Eyerman Avatar
    Gabi Montoya-Eyerman

    It’s taken me many years to realize that I have to be my own happiness and to realize small ways to get away from all of the prickly things in the world. Yesterday we went to a nearby pond to cool off, other days we had gone it had been quiet and with only a few people around. Not really thinking about the holiday as we headed out, and hoping for some cooling water, we arrived at the same time a family of rambunctious teenage boys arrived. Watching my four small girls navigate the situation was interesting to say the least. From the three year old extrovert who looked like she wanted to join in the loud fun these boys were having (she watched carefully while floating a small log at a distance some parents might think was too close to the action, but I let her explore), to the six year old sensitive who started whimpering after a bit at the noise and ended up on the bank completely wrapped in a towel cocoon. I mentioned about wishing there were a portable bubble we could carry around to let her get in and get away, but I suppose the towel was as good as we could get. Husband took the sensitive one back to the vehicle where I eventually got the rest of them and found them picking wild blueberries by the road. So yes, misery to sheer delight in just a few minutes for her. Myself was feeling a bit worn at this point since I had not gotten my own restoring swim because of the rowdy play going on. I sat in the vehicle and ate some cherries while listening to the sounds of my girls exclaim with delight every time they found another blueberry. Being aware of these moments has made life more precious and help to push the other noise away. Focusing deliberately at the end of the day on these good moments and actually showing my girls how to think about those good moments and not about the other annoying bits is something we have been actively working on. Still, even with that I plan to homeschool this coming year due to many reasons, but the most important being the unhappiness of the six year old, who quietly suffered through kindergarten and just wants to learn stuff without the distraction of all the nonsense going on in a classroom of 12 boys and 4 girls. Anyway, I have gone on .. as we do.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Oh, Gabi, your girls are so lucky to have such a sensitive mother. A mother who appreciates and understands each of them for their particular traits. And protects them from the “prickly things.” Important to remember to restore yourself as well. It’s always good to hear from you.

  2. Buck Avatar

    My gifted son has been anxious and depressed since he was about 3 years old. He is now 15 and still having problems with therapy and meds. I just want him to be content. He is too self aware and focused on both himself and others but can’t discuss his emotions well

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Hi Buck. Like in this post, you can see that it can be hard to be content if you’re gifted and dealing with sensitivities and perceptivity. He’s lucky to have a dad who cares and listens to him. Do you know the research about how to get boys to talk about emotions? They say that boys are more likely to talk if you’re doing something with them, even riding in a car, so they don’t have to look directly at you while sharing. Maybe you could share some of the blog with him as a way to start the conversation?

  3. Shakespeare, Scotland, & Shelley – SLISing

    […] Will they ever be happy? […]

  4. Lucinda Leo Avatar
    Lucinda Leo

    Oh my, that is SO what I needed to hear today – thank you, Paula! This afternoon my 12 yr old went (within 15 minutes) from ecstatically taking ‘fan’ requests as she live-streamed herself singing and playing guitar (this month’s passion) to sobbing inconsolably because she’s having trouble doing an incredibly challenging maths paper that’s aimed at the brightest kids 2 years older than her (that she wanted to take!!). High standards indeed. I guess I’m grateful for the happy moments!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Yes, good to appreciate them when they come!

      1. Lucinda Leo Avatar
        Lucinda Leo

        I showed my daughter your post. She loved it and commented, “Wow! She writes about the same things as you!” I don’t think she’d realised that anyone else talked about this kind of thing. 😄

        1. Paula Prober Avatar
          Paula Prober

          Good to hear that she loved it. Yeah!! I do have some teen followers.

  5. KtCallsita Avatar

    Thank you for this. With a houseful of rainforests it seems that they never all align for a genuine feeling of happiness over the whole of the home. Especially as we deal with chainsaws in the schools (removing 2 of my kids from public school because of this – I just can’t watch them be mistreated so badly any longer). Add that to the challenges they give to each other and just the mundane routine necessary to sustain life (who really wants to cook again and do more laundry?) It’s nice to know that we aren’t supposed to be aiming for happiness, but a transition of pleasant and busy states. I like that a lot better. (even in my currently exhausted state)

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I hope you can get some rest, KtCallsita! So much intensity! So sorry that your schooling situation isn’t better. Sending you many hugs. And a foot massage!

  6. Homeschooling2e Avatar

    I try to aim for being content as opposed to disatisfied all the time. Rainforest kids (at least mine) can get so frustrated and irritated at little things and focus on that. No one is happy all the time – that’s a fantasy, but you can learn to not be unhappy all the time. Content isn’t really the right word either, but it’s the closest I can get.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I think there can be that tendency to be easily frustrated and irritated because of the sensitivities and perfectionism. That’s why I wrote this. You’re not alone!! So, maybe, instead of contentment it’s appreciation? gratitude? or even learning how to relax? or be in the moment? breathe? reduce the worry? If you’ve got 2e kids, it gets even more complex; maybe that’s contributing to the frustration and irritation. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  7. Lillianna Avatar

    Similar to Jen, I love the feeling of thinking “wow, this is a great moment I’m experiencing and I will miss this. It’s such an honor to feel this intense love and joy in this future memory.”

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thank you, Lillianna. I think that’s one of the benefits of the sensitivity of a rainforest mind. The ability to feel intense love and joy. Not that others don’t feel that, too. But the highly sensitive person may feel it more often. (along with the despair, etc….)

  8. Jen Avatar

    Like a lucid dream, waking yourself up in those moments of glee is – to me – true happiness. I don’t think most people get to experience them in the moment and can only enjoy things as memories. Waking up in the moment is worth more to me (and, hopefully, to my girls if I’m teaching them well) than a higher day-to-day level of happiness.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Lovely, Jen. “…waking yourself up in those moments of glee…”