Thursday, April 14, 2011

Happiness in Pursuit

Just this morning, I read an article about how Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood is debunking the claims of the Your Baby Can Read folks. I've seen those infomercials, and despite being completely comfortable with my own level of education and my ability to teach my child, I've still found myself wondering if there was anything to these claims. It's a marketing sucker punch to every parent's weak spot--wanting the best for their children.

I've been thinking about this lately, partially because of my secondary reaction to those Your Baby Can Read commercials. After wondering if there was anything to it, I would find myself thinking, "I'd prefer LO to be happy than be smart." Obviously, both is ideal. But if I had to choose, I'd choose a happy child over a smart one.

That's not to say that I want a child who is always happy and who never experiences problems, challenges, setbacks or heartbreak. I would hate that kid, you know? I know that LO will have his heart handed to him by someone in the future. I know that he will not get opportunities that he badly wants. I know that the world will say NO to him many times. I'm okay with that, although it hurts to think about it. I just want my child to be able to take all of that in stride and still find an inner core of contentment to weather those storms. That's so much more important to me than smarts.

This understanding comes with its own hurdles. There aren't as many infomercials geared toward insecure parents trying to bring about happy children, but there are certainly many ways I can torture myself with thinking that I'm making my child incapable of happiness. Does crying it out over-stress my child? Does picking him up every time he cries make it impossible for him to self soothe and therefore doom him to a life of searching for external providers of happiness? Will my terrible singing ruin the joy of music for him?

Part of my (over)thinking about LO's happiness stems from my own stressful relationship with it. Depression is not unknown to me. J and I know that LO may end up with some of the same demons that have plagued me and others in my family. We just want to give him the best chance for happiness, despite the brain chemistry that might make happiness more elusive for him.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure I'm the best role model for LO when it comes to finding happiness. I still have trouble recognizing that it's not frivolous to want to be happy. When I was about 10, I remember telling my mother that I wanted to be happy when I grew up. I was sure I knew what she would say: "Oh, you can set your sights higher than that!" Imagine my surprise when she told me that happiness wasn't that easy to achieve.


I really thought that being happy was not something to aspire to. You plan for grandeur and recognition, for making important contributions, for doing good work. You don't plan for happiness.

This comes back to some of my ambivalence about staying home and writing right now. Don't get me wrong--I absolutely love what I'm doing. It's the work I was born to do and no one could do it better than I do. But that's the problem. This is the work I was born to do? My younger self would be horrified to see that I am leading an ordinary life, with ordinary days following one after another. Where is my ambition, 16-year-old EG would want to know.

I am starting to understand that ambition will not lead to happiness for me, but that doesn't change the fact that I think I should still aspire to greatness. I want to write the Great American Novel and have my name become a household word. But I know that most household name authors are not only unhappy, but also batshit insane. I'm learning that I'd rather be happy than that successful. Once I learned that about myself, it started putting other tiny pieces in place. Slowly, I am starting to recognize the grandeur in an ordinary day. In taking a nap with my son. In putting words together, no matter the end product. In stopping long enough to let happiness catch me.

I guess it all comes down to my hope that LO will not feel nearly so conflicted about his own joy. I can pursue my own happiness best by slowing down and letting life wash over me. In letting each day take its own shape, rather than making it conform to the rigid structure I try to put on it. Perhaps LO will find a sweet spot and be able to find happiness in letting go and holding tight. As long as I am doing my best to let him see the wonder available to him; as long as he knows himself and trusts in the goodness of the world; as long as those are in place, I hope happiness will follow.

That's not too much to ask, is it?


  1. I can so relate to this post! One of my goals as a parent is helping guide my daughter toward finding things that make her happy and then offering emotional support to her when she's there. Growing up I used to say that if I was brave I would become an artist (a photographer), but the realist in me made sure I found a profession. If only I had had the support to follow the dream because it's the everyday that matters and happiness makes it all worthwhile. Life is too darn short to waste time being unhappy. So easy to say that, so hard to act on it. A constant struggle, but so very important.

  2. This is something I've thought about too, and something I've talked a lot about with my husband, who I'm not sure agrees. Having grown up fairly smart and not always happy, I would much rather S. be well-adjusted than high-achieving.