The search for meaning and happiness is one of life’s great mysteries. Its a pursuit that many endeavour to find the answer to. We live in a time when technology and other advancements have made our lifestyle’s easier in many ways yet we still struggle with finding meaning and happiness.
You can walk into virtually any bookstore and find an explosion of titles on the subject of happiness in the self help section. The pursuit of happiness is big business.
Each year hundreds of thousands of books are sold that keep the self help industry booming. Clearly it’s a universal struggle to find meaning, so how can we teach or model happiness to our children.
Our youth are at serious risk of developing a mental health issue. Jason Skues, lecturer in the Department of Psychology at Swinburne University says the reality is 3 out of 4 adult mental health issues were first present in adolescence. As a parent and role model to two teenage boys I find this fact disturbing.
Is happiness a transferable skill we are meant to hand down to our youth so they don’t become adults whose hope for future happiness isn’t the stuff of dreams from a bygone era.
In my own life, my children constantly see me struggling on a daily basis, mostly likely not smiling often, rushing around, stressed, worried, impatient, rarely do they see me just sitting around relaxing, they see me get caught up in the seriousness of life and not the lightness of just being. Am I modeling anything resembling happiness and am I demonstrating the skills of living a happy life? How can I impart skills of living happily so it can later be birthed through my children when my life and most parents lives are in a constant state of chaos.
I scan my mind for friends or associates who seem to demonstrate a sustained measure of happiness and no one really comes to minds. Of course happiness is highly subjective and hard to quantify.
Happiness for me has always been like the carrot dangling at the end of a stick that I never can quite reach. As a child I watched my parents struggle to just get by. The images that are most vivid from that time is of my father falling asleep at the dinner table from sheer exhaustion after a tiring day at work and wonder how my own children will remember me.
I’m tired most days and cry often. If I stop to consider my life and ask is this all there is for me then what about my children and what about your children?
As parents, we are the template and model for living life as adults. Chances are our children will ultimately follow our example and I dont know about you but that is a little scary for me to contemplate. My ability to expereince joy gets lost in the maze of striving. I think it’s ok for me, living like this but the thought of my children also running around in this constant state of striving does not inspire hope of a better quality of life for them.
Maybe parents are not soley responsible for their childrens happiness. We are born as individuals perhaps our experience and model of life is not entirely all our children can hope for. They can still choose to do things differently.
How do my children see me as a model of happiness? I’m always ‘on’, the ‘off’ button rarely gets pushed. I don’t remember a time in my life when I haven’t been striving for something, striving to make ends meet, striving to provide for our basic needs, striving to get my business off and running, striving to find enough hours in the day, striving to be enough, striving to figure out the meaning of life, striving to have a good time when im not striving and I strive to save up for a holiday so I can have a break from striving.
Perhaps happiness isn’t necessarily the only quality of a healthy life. Just maybe it is equally important to develop a healthy sense of meaning which isn’t necessarily the same as being happy. Some might have a strong sense of fulfilment or achievement without happiness necessarily being the only way to experience that.
Sadly I know I am not alone. Of all the people I know and have come across the breadth of the life , from the high income power couples with no kids to the families struggling on one income, single, gay or straight, young or old, happiness has become a dirty word. Its rarely spoken about and if we all openly discussed our level of life satisfaction I’m sure there would be no real surprises. We are a culture of strivers that never arrive at the state of happiness that all the striving is supposed to bring us to.
“The overarching theme of happiness is the balance between energy going in and energy going out. I use the word energy but I could just as easily say resources. If you want to be “happy” then you need things that give you energy more than cost you energy” said Mr Skues.
Author, Eckhart Tolle’s book ‘The Power of Now’ revolutionised the way we approach life with his simple concept of living in the present moment. Eckhart proposes Happiness is not achieved whilst engaged in thoughts that take you away from the present moment.
According to a 2002 study conducted by positive psychology pioneers Ed Diener and Martin Seligman, at the University of Illinois, those university students in the study with the highest scores of personal happiness and who showed the fewest signs of depression had strong ties to friends and family and commitment to spending time with them.
I asked my teenage son what he thought the secret of happiness is? He mumbled “Everything being peaceful and everyone getting along at home, with friends and at school”. I then asked my younger son the same question. He reluctantly gave me an insight into his inner sanctum and grumbled “sport, hanging around with friends” I then asked what if you couldn’t do any sport or see friends then what? He paused and thought about this, “I’d listen to music and use the ipad” he replied. How sweet I thought. Oh to be young and innocent surely the search for happiness is far more complex than their young minds can comprehend.
Happiness, I thought to myself, a bit more complex than getting along and having a social network but studies have shown that strong social relationships are critical to well-being. On reflection they maybe closer to the answer than I am.
Perhaps their innocent answers are not so far removed from expert opinions after all.
A few years ago, British Prime Minister David Cameron, announced plans to measure happiness as an indicator of national progress, instead of relying on gross domestic product (GDP).
So yes, happiness is big business. It’s a big word. A big pursuit and seemingly elusive to many but is it a dirty word?