Monday, February 20, 2012

the happiness project

we hosted a rousing meeting of the monthly bennett cousin discussion group earlier this week.

it is such a treat to have family near by, even more of a treat to get to see them often, and the best treat of all to get together to talk about interesting this. i was in charge of the article this month and after much and lengthy deliberation, i finally settled on this piece by lori gottlieb about how helicopter parenting can ruin your kid's life.

we all had plenty to say about it, as i am sure you can imagine, but here are a few things that stuck out to me.

1. "happiness as a byproduct of living your life is a great thing. but happiness as a goal is a recipe for disaster."

i think this is a lesson we learn particularly well as members of the LDS faith. when you follow the commandments, the promptings of the spirit and make good choices and you are blessed and blessings make you happy, so you learn to see happiness as (to steal from the quote above) a "byproduct of living your life."

i find this an enormously helpful concept because it means that a) if i am not feeling happy as a byproduct of my life, i can change the things i am doing in my life and experience positive results, making me the master of my own fate which is at the same time a remarkably comforting and somewhat terrifying concept and b) i can be happy even if bad things are happening to me as long as i continue to live my life in a way that brings me good things.

2. "you have to be exposed to pathogens or your body won't know how to respond to an attack. kids also need exposure to discomfort, failure and struggle."

the value of failure, we concluded, is that once you have experienced it once, when it comes again you know you can handle it. you've been through that hard thing once, so you can certainly get through it again. and how much better to learn that lesson on the ultimately inconsequential failures of childhood, than on what can be much more shaking failures in adulthood.

3. "the irony is that measures of self-esteem are poor predictors of how content a person will be, especially if the self-esteem comes from constant accommodation and praise rather than earned accomplishment."

there is no feeling in the world that can beat the feeling of working hard for something and getting it, whether it's a game, a paper, a job, a talent or a relationship. the list really is endless. and if you don't work hard but you get something anyway, how can you really feel confident in yourself and happy about your efforts? everything that means the most to me is something i have worked hard for or hard at, and those are also the things i feel very best about.

4. "our children are not our masterpieces."

one thing i appreciate more and more about my parents the older i get is that they were always proud and supportive of me, but they also let me develop into my own unique personality and they had their own lives and interests and triumphs outside of their children. i think that was just the right way to do it.

and, i also think that the "right" way is different for every parent and every child and every circumstance. just like my recent realization that there is no magic bullet piece of advice or formula for getting married, it seems that the same must be true of parenting. which is, i imagine, what makes it so terrifying, but also what makes it so wonderful.

though, if you're looking for a model, you might consider the french.

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