As parents, we want our children to be happy for their sake and for ours. In fact, we all live the adage, “You’re only as happy as your least happy child.”
But as the title of a January 9, 2013 article in The Atlantic warns, “There’s More to Life than Being Happy.” The writer opens her editorial with a powerful quote from Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, who says, "It is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness," to communicate that people who have meaning in their lives are the most resilient, and are able to rise above even the most horrible situations.
The Importance of Meaning
High school English teacher David McCullough Jr., whose 2012 high school graduation address went viral on YouTube, provides contemporary references for the importance of making your life meaningful, and by default, happy. In his keynote speech he explains, “The fulfilling life, the distinctive life, the relevant life, is an achievement, not something that will fall into your lap because you’re a nice person or mommy ordered it from the caterer… The fulfilled life is a consequence, a gratifying byproduct. It’s what happens when you’re thinking about more important things. Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you.” This was an incredibly inspiring message for his peers.
Wellesley College Professor of Psychology Julie Norem defines happiness as a fleeting emotional state and cautions about raising expectations that it can be a steady one. “No one should expect to be happy all the time because our emotional networks, lives, and reality don’t work that way.” On top of Norem’s perspective, our nation’s obsession with happiness distorts our view of others’ states of happiness.
The popular adage, “The grass is always greener on the other side” rings all the more true since we typically show the world our best foot forward in our Facebook and other social media posts. Nonetheless, in the TIME Magazine 2013 cover story titled “The Pursuit of Happiness,” 76% of Americans answered “YES” to the 2013 question, “Do you believe that on their social media profiles, other people make themselves look happier, more attractive, and more successful than they really are?” We may have each other’s numbers, but still it’s hard not to compare and come up short.
To help your child achieve fulfillment, and therefore happiness, focus them on pursuits that are meaningful to them and to your family. Encourage them to engage in activities that they relish, whether it’s art, athletics, reading, cooking; encourage them to participate in community service, whether it’s an environmental, medical, social, or educational cause; encourage them to be a member of whatever communities you value; encourage them to follow David McCullough’s advice, “Dream big. Work hard. Think for yourself.”How