26 September 2009


I have been pondering the irony of happiness lately.

Doesn’t it seem odd that at a time when personal satisfaction and self esteem are the major focus of what we expect to accomplish for ourselves and our children, teen suicide, divorce, depression, and all the woes associated with a monumental lack of happiness and personal satisfaction should be at an all time high?

I have been giving a lot of thought to why that might be.

It seems clear that we have, as a culture, lost track of what happiness and personal satisfaction really are.

The old wisdom tells us, that “Happiness is not a destination, but a mode of travel”. You can’t “finally attain” happiness, and personal satisfaction can’t be purchased. Real happiness is more about the way we decide to see life, how we live and what we expect.

I don’t mean that if you decide to be happy, nothing will ever happen that make you sad, to frustrate you, or to prevent you from doing what you want to do. Of course all those things happen in everyone’s life. What you can change is how you decide to view those frustrations and setbacks.

There are a couple of things I think might make a difference. One is that we are sheltering our children, as much as we possibly can, from failure. Not failing *should* give them better self esteem, right? Well…um…


Actually, surmounting obstacles and achieving things at which we could have (and perhaps have in the past) failed raises our self esteem. Protecting kids from challenges actually lowers self esteem by sending the message that we think of them as incapable of achievement on their own and on their own terms. It also develops in them an overdeveloped sense of entitlement. Neither is a recipe for real happiness.

W. H. Auden said “We are here on Earth to do good to others.” It seems that as our society has gotten more and more focused on ourselves as individuals and our own happiness, we’ve become less and less happy.

I’m not under the impression that everyone was happier on some mythic time when we were more focused on contribution to the community, but my on experience suggests that focus on what we can accomplish and what we can contribute to the community does a lot to lead to satisfaction with our selves and out world.

Just a thought. It seemed profound until I wrote it down. Funny how that works.


  1. Funny you should post this...the Half Full website posted this article: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/half_full/?p=1661

    I wholeheartedly agree with it, and with what you say.

  2. I do think it was profound; even after being written down lol. I agree with everything you said!!! While on my trip east (face it everything is east of Oregon) I noticed that kids in the midwest are far *less* overprotected than kids here in the west; particularly in Minn. where I saw kids "free ranging" on their own in just about every town and city. Hmmm. Makes me wonder what causes the difference. I keep telling my kids that I am doing them a disservice if I don't let them make mistakes and learn from them while they still live with me.

    Thanks for writing what was in my brain lol. ;)


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