Oprah Winfrey says that the children at her school, the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa, are her “greatest, deepest joy” — underscoring how much happiness spending time with the kids in our lives can bring us, and we don’t just mean kids of our own. Mentoring youth, as Winfrey has done, is linked to positive psychological outcomes for both mentees and mentors: Recent research shows that mentoring promotes career satisfaction and commitment.

“They are my greatest, deepest joy,” Winfrey tells People, adding that she has taken on the role of a caretaker in the students’ lives — though she’s careful to still be respectful of their mothers. “When the girls started calling me Mom O, I did not want their mothers or their legal guardians to think that I was stepping in and trying to take over the role their mom mom holds in their lives. I’m very much aware of who I am and what my role is for them.”

For Winfrey, the students at her school are “the daughters I did not have. I never thought that that mothering instinct was something for me,” she says. “I like children when they can actually speak to me and tell what is the problem. This is how having children was supposed to manifest for me.” So often, just as she experienced, our life paths can surprise us, providing joy in unexpected places.

“When we can create real connections… and see the world through children’s eyes… our life can bring us more joy than we ever imagined,” Kristen Race, Ph.D. and author of Mindful Parenting: Simple and Powerful Solutions for Raising Creative, Engaged, Happy Kids in Today’s Hectic World, tells Thrive. Whether or not you have children, it’s possible to bring joy into your life — and in turn ease stress — by sustaining relationships with little ones close to you, and by giving back (just as Oprah has with her school), whether that’s volunteering your time at a local homeless families shelter, or simply being present in the lives of your close friends’ kids.

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