You want to be happy.  I want to be happy.  Parents want happy children. Children want to be happy.  Teachers and bosses are told happy students learn better; bosses are told happy workers are more productive.   Happy children are easier to love and live with. Happy parents are kinder parents.  And yes, students happy about what they are learning, apply themselves more diligently, while happy employees work harder.

Sad fact of life:  Happiness is not the norm of adult life.  As a poet said, “Happiness is like a crystal, shattered, scattered far and near.”   We are lucky to find bits and pieces as we go along life’s path.  Expecting happiness to be the norm is programming yourself or your child for unhappiness.

Parents from the sixties on to the today have worked hard to give their children a happy childhood. Unwittingly, these parents have spawned a generation that expects too much happiness.  Many of today’s therapists are finding a new group of adults seeking help.  These have had such happy and untroubled childhoods, that adult life seems barren and dull.  Their happy childhoods that did not prepare them for life as an adult.

Unhappy?   Maybe you had  parents who followed the advice of the song “Don’t Worry Be Happy” or listened to the communication experts who thought children should never be punished or criticized.  Maybe this  made your early life too easy. Such parents meant well and did the best they could, but followed the wrong experts.

FACT OF LIFE:  Happiness is not the norm.  Moreover, happy children often grow into unhappy adults who expect too much.  When I was a working therapists dealing with middle class kid, I saw what were called “Type A suicides.”  These were teens who had everything and remained very unhappy, so unhappy, life seemed unbearable to them.  First the theorists and therapists thought  hidden trauma and abuse might be the problem.  Not so.  More and more therapists are recognizing that the abuse was having too much of the happy life and not enough  of the good life.

In the How to Land Your Kid in Therapy – Magazine – The Atlantic.  Barry Schwartz, a professor of social theory at Swarthmore College, is quoted as saying: “…happiness as a goal is a recipe for disaster.”

The article should be a must read for parents, grandparents, unhappy adults.  Seeking more and more excitement or perfect happiness doesn’t work.  The article makes that clear.

What does?  The articles doesn’t go into that as deeply, but most theorists now agree; but that finding meaning and purpose adds up to positive self-esteem and satisfaction with life and others.   Many people survive abuse, war, trauma, or every day tragedy and manage to move forward and even find some bits of the happiness crystal here and there, by finding a mission or a cause to believe in and work for.

Victor Frankl, who lost all his family in the death camps of Nazi Germany, survived that horror and tried to figure out how others survived.  Often it was a matter of luck, and many just gave up, turned their faces to the wall and embraced death.  Those who didn’t found a cause they felt worth living for.  But Frankl saw that many found their cause in one of three ways:

  1. Wanting others to know what they had gone through, we want witnesses for our pain and suffering
  2. Wanting revenge
  3. Wanting to make the world better for the next generation,  in some way this cause might have been part of the push to provide children with happy childhoods.

Wanting revenge does not work, much of the unhappiness in today’s world is caused by trying to repay hurt with hurt. The healthiest cause is wanting to make the world better.  Moreover, it is a cause that can be satisfied much easier than trying to be perfectly happy.  Experiment with spreading kindness, smiles, compliments, gratitude in your small corner of the world.  You will find it makes a difference.

Share, care, and stay strong.

IMAGE: Baby World at


  1. That child must be quite miserable… Jokes aside , you raise some good points though I’m not convinced happy children become unhappy adults; they just fine tune their optimism. However, even the happiest have their off days… so the playing field ain’t so distorted after all… Here’s to humor and celebration in 2012.
    ♥Happy ♥New ♥Year ♥ ! 🙂

    • I think balance is the thing and in my contrariness, think happiness should not be a goal, but a by product. Moreover, I was always a fan of Beverly Sills who had many problems in her life and said, she couldn’t always be happy, but she could work at being cheerful.

      That said your generous comments make me very, very, happy.

    • Is there such a thing as true happiness anmyore?Life is what you make it, plain and simple. However I do find that so many people today are just out for themselves, which to some extent is fine. What and who can you trust anmyore?I agree with Carol, or with what her mother had to say. Some people try so hard to be something they are not, I know, I found out the hard way.Enjoy the life you have, stop running to find greener pastures. If your grass isn’t so green, remedy it, if you don’t like the music, turn the dial. Listen to reason before you judge, you may have lost someone or something that could have made a wonderful difference in your life.

      • Thank you Anjali. I think there is something called joy or happiness, but as one poet said, is as if someone took a rare crystal vase and shattered it, scattering all the pieces far and wide. I think, if we are lucky, we stumble on a piece now and again, but we waste our time pursuing it as the only good in life. I think the better life comes from finding and nurturing caring relationships – only a few are necessary – finding work that contributes to the good in the world, finding a passion to pursue, what you like and realizing what yoy have been given. Not easy but has helped me look back on a long life with contentment and a bit of awe. Not being who the others want you to be is never easy, but gets easier with age. Stay strong, I feel much good awaits you.

      • oh dear God, I am nowhere near being FP’ed.. since I started here, have just been waiting for one meaningful intelligent conversation on any of my posts!

        You are 11 years older than my mom, yet I had a more easygoing & productive conversation with you than I have had with her in the last decade.

        P.S. – ..sometimes i feel better the next morning too.. sometimes i wake up with a frown & realise that i was dreaming about my funks.

      • One of my foster children, who had lived with us peacefully for over a month, woke up one morning with a killing urge. He was pacing up and down the front lawn when I went out to pick up the newspaper. He told me not to come near him and to keep every one away from him. We did and he was transferred to a secure detention home. Years later he appeared at our doorstep seeking a handout. We gave him $50 bucks. He said he needed to get to another city. He remembered the event, it made no sense to him, only that he woke up ready to kill. I think he had a trauma flash back in a dream. Potent stuff our dreams.

        All I can say about parents is they do their best and often that isn’t enough. I think I do a bit better than my mother with my sons, much better with my grandsons. My sons might say differently, but I still suspect that is the most realistic goal for any parent. My Mom and I were sandpaper. But according to several nieces and cousins, she saved their emotional life. An alcoholic aunt gave me what my mother couldn’t give. Glad I gave you something.

        Have you heard your mother’s voice jump out of your mouth yet; scared the stuff out of me and was a big serving of humble pie when it happened. Life isn’t easy, just want the best for you kids, helps; they will recognize that. Rambling so will stop for now. Stay strong.

        Stay strong and

  2. Couldn’t agree more with your last sentence Katherine – “happiness is a by product of feeling like a good and competent person”.

    But, your 3rd paragraph seems to be all about behavioural problems. I don’t have any degrees in child or human psychology but my over-analytical & constantly active brain leads me to believe in the following –

    1. ‘Good Behaviour’ is something that needs to be taught to the children as soon as they begin conversing (simple do’s & don’ts).

    2. ‘Values’, (moral & human) is more serious stuff. It is a deep-rooted concept and develops in children over time. (Probably the foundation of ‘good values’ is laid within your time frame of 2-10 years of age.)

    3. ‘Happiness’ on the contrary, cannot be taught or developed. Plus, it has nothing to do with the above 2 points.

    For example, I was very well-behaved as a child (good), had/ have a strong core of values (good) and was the top student of my school throughout (competent) BUT i don’t remember being happy ‘happy’, if you can understand what i mean. My happiness was dependent on external factors like acceptance, appreciation & attention, etc. Probably still is, that is why i find myself always looking out for it, rather than within.

    Therefore, I want my child to ‘BE’ the source of his own strength & happiness. This is probably more of a life-skill rather than a quest for happiness. All the traits you mentioned in your 2nd paragraph are EXACTLY what I am talking about here. Just don’t know how to go about it since I find myself lacking in it.

    P.S. – I didn’t read the Atlantic Monthly article since i found the title extremely discouraging.

    • Some studies show there is a wide variation in the ability to “be happy.” Jerome Kagan, a leading researcher into human development , and others list mood as a temperament trait, meaning something we are born iwth. I have a high pain tolerance and I suspect that makes it easier for me to be content and probably happier than someone with a low pain tolerance. However, what complicates our genetic traits is the influence of lived experiences and that includes what our outer circles say about feelings as well as about values. According to one study–Eskimos don’t even have a word for anger as living in the confines of an igloo makes anger deadly. Instead there are words that we might see tied to anger that are seen as “crazy” by the eskimos and apparently leads to both distancing from taking anger personally and efforts to deal with the “crazy” person kindly. Both approaches are better than doing what anger usually tells us to do–fight.

      So I would say happiness has to do with a combination of things. My model for what makes us who we are is four-fold:

      First: Our biology–both what we are born with and what happens to us physically as we progress through life. Trauma can change our brain and chemistry as can head injurious and a host of other things.
      Second: Our experiences–how we are dealt with by our family, out we meet the exepectations of our society, the messages we hear and come to believe about ourselves.
      Third: Our beliefs–the interpretations we put on what we see, hear, and experince. By beliefs, I mean the deep seated ideas that guide us–and for the most part are laid down in the first years of life, but change because of biological changes–a seven year old thinks differently than a three year old and at least half of all adolescents think differently than at seven year old. a part here also as does biology.
      Fourth: Our behaviors–we tend to do what we find pleasing or at least less hurtful than what we find unpleasant and hurtful. The Freudians and behaviorists agree we are deeply influenced by the Pleasure/Pain rule. There is also the fact that the more we do something, the more likely we are to keep doing it.

      Now the complicating thing is that these four factors get interwoven but also their influence is not necessarily equal. For example, certain chemical or biological conditions can over-rule experience. Easiest to understand when thinking of someone who is blind or born without a brain or sustains a major head injury. You may have a biologically based lower pain tolerance that keeps happiness at bay. Sad, because it sounds like you are a talented and caring person.

      My guru Kagan says that chance or luck also plays a part.

      Anyway, I do think happiness is both a biological possibiity and a learned skill and partly depends on defintion. I think reading the article might help, it depressed me, but mainly because–I think in our efforts to help our children find happiness we have gone about it in the wrong way and that our society defines it inaccurately inaccurately. I see one of my kids pursuing it all the wrong ways. That is also part of a biological thing in my family related to addictions.

      Enjoying our conversation.

      • Hi Katherine, thank you for taking out time to converse with me.

        Your conjectures are amazing.. especially since they are formed on just 2 comments from me. I do like to think of myself as a talented & a responsible person. I am not so sure about the ‘caring person’ bit. Of course, i do care about my family but i think that’s because i feel responsible for them & to them.

        And you hit the nail on the head with “You may have a biologically based lower pain tolerance”. I do have a low threshold of physical pain. I also have a very low tolerance to psychological pain (mostly caused by people who do not live upto their roles or promises or professions, people who lie, people who do wrong knowingly, inhumanness of some people & so on.. you get the gist). Which is why I get angry often. This is not an excuse for getting angry. Just trying to explain why things bother me so much, even when they don’t concern me OR affect me directly.

        Anyway, this has become too much about me. I am mainly here because I don’t want my kid to adopt my follies. Like I said in my previous comment, “I want my child to ‘BE’ the source of his ‘OWN’ strength & happiness”.

        May GOD help me!

        P.S. – I did read the atlantic article. Couldn’t go beyond the 1st page. It was starting to affect me…. & not in a good way. Too much negativity..have enough of that to deal with in my own life.

      • Two things come quickly to mind. One an African saying: “A cow gave birth to a fire, she want to lick it but it burned her, she wanted to leave it, but it was her child.” “Having a child is like carrying your heart outside your body.” Feeling down today and doubt I could read the Atlantic article.

        I survived the ups and downs of my life be adopting an attitude I read about as a teen in the book Micorobe Hunters. “Blessed are those who expect nothing for they shall not be disappointed.” Never kept me from expecting more of others, but somehow buffered the hurt. Life is a struggle and relationships the hardest struggle.

        Stay strong and the fact that you want the best for your child = caring.

  3. Katherine, I am in disbelief right now. I cannot come to grips with what I just read in your post – ‘do not strive for happiness’, you say? Did I read that right?
    I agree with the rest of it though – what matters, living for a cause, spreading smiles, etc. But I am a mother to a 5-year old, and constantly striving to give a better childhood than the one I had. And your post has me tied in knots of confusion!!

    • Confusion is the avenue to wisdom. Of course we want our children to have a better childhood than we did, but too many parenting gurus equate that with being happy, never being criticized, always being praised even for jobs you don’t do well. tom Gordon wants parents to be non-judgmental therapists. That actually works if the child has been helped from the age of two to ten to learn to respect other people’s rights including property rights and reasonable laws.

      A truly better life is based on building emotional strength, which means the ability to tolerate unhappiness, code reality properly, accept not getting your own way, and keep going when life doesn’t go your way. Did you read the Atlantic Monthly article that was part of my post? It details the extreme “happy first” method of child rearing.

      I am caring for my 17 month old child and see a great many seven, eight, and nine year olds bent on their own pleasure with the results toddlers are knocked down, shot with water guns , and too many parents ignore this. Then there are the teens who curse, say the f— word constantly, cannonball into the pool without seeing if they are going to land on someone, and engage in x rated sexual behaviors–breast kissing, crotch stroking. These are the kids that feel entitled to “Happiness.” The teens and some were chronological adults, had a July 4th party, dumbed their garbage in the pool so it had to be closed for two days. Another group pulled out one of the in-pool lights not only leading to getting the pool closed, but endangering swimmers. I am sure you don’t want your child behaving like this.

      Children are programmed to learn values from two years to ten years of age from teachers and parents and other relatives. At about ten years of age, the peer group does the teaching and in America that includes many of the media producers who cater to teen tastes. I am a hippy, I am not at all opposed to doing you own think, but not without respect to other people’s rights. I also know enough about human behavior that happiness is a by product of feeling like a good and competent person.

      Hope that clears up your confusion. If not ask me more questions.

Agree or disagree, comments are always welcomed.

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