Recently I was an observer at a sold-out parent education seminar about the epidemic levels of depression, suicide, and anxiety disorders affecting children. The lecturer asked the audience rhetorically, "What is it that we most want our children to be?" In stunning synchronicity, the audience roared "HAPPY."
We parents want our children to grow into happy adults. In my new book Raising Happiness —which went on sale yesterday!—I give parents 10 research-based steps for raising happy children that promise to make us happier parents as well. As a part of my job at the Greater Good Science Center, I monitor the research related to happiness, childrearing, and well-being in sociology, psychology, and neuroscience. I'm also a mom myself, so I am always watching for ways to apply this research to my own parenting.
A lot of people have poo-pooed my deep interest in (some would say obsession with) happiness over the last decade, especially before it was hip to study and write about. But the pursuit of happiness is not a fad: loads of ancient wisdom traditions are based on the pursuit of happiness. (Maybe it just seems trendy because science is only just now catching on.) The Dalai Lama is famously a fan of happiness, having declared that "the purpose of life is to be happy."
Similarly, Aristotle once declared happiness to be the "chief good:" What he meant by this is that everything we do in life we do because we think it will make us happier. We go on diets because we think losing weight will make us happier; we search for soul-mates because we believe true joy can be found only with another person; we climb all manner of mountains because we think we'll be happy when we prove to others how strong we are.
Unfortunately, research shows that people typically pursue happiness in ways and things that don't make them happy.
At the same time, we also have a lot of scientific research which points to the things that DO make us happy. It was this research that inspired me to start writing for parents: What if we can teach children effective means to pursue happiness?
I know we can do that, as parents and as a society. Our kids' happiness is incredibly important: let's teach them how to achieve it!
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Essentially what you said about Aristotle is correct, but I don’t think that most people today would define happiness the same way he did. The examples you give (losing weight, finding a soulmate, proving to others how strong we are) have absolutely nothing to do with what Aristotle meant by happiness. For him, the happy life–or, it might be more accurate to call it a “satisfied” or “contented” life, something like that–was the contemplative life in part because it is totally self-sufficient. For Aristotle, basing your happiness on the whims of others is ultimately unsatisfying. So, yes, he believed the aim of life was happiness, but it’s not even close to what, for example, JS Mill meant by that. I’ve no idea, really, what the Dalai Lama means by it, so I can’t compare.
Julie | 12:59 am, February 23, 2010 | Link