It happens that parents take diligent care of their children, and try to play the role of providers of happy-destinies. They arrange for a better school, a better college; everything for the sake of their kids. Children seem to have everything except happiness. They are lucky but not happy. Why is it so? Usually people come to the conclusion that the parents should not have helped the children; instead, they should have let the children get everything for themselves, “Nobody helped us in our youth.”
But why? Why not help children if there is a possibility? What kind of people would we be if we denied helping children due to abstract educational constructions or due to vindictive feelings, as the ant to the dragonfly, “I have worked and so should you” (Krylov)? We are not moralizing ants, and children are not dragonflies. We have another relationship; we love children and are ready to help them.
When parents help their children they are not making a mistake. The mistake is made when the parents think that this is enough. It seems to us that we give children too much, but in fact, we continually give them not enough of something very important. Some parents strive for success, but not for happiness, and therefore, they cannot teach children the latter. They give children a happy life and a chance for happiness, but they cannot give the desire, necessary to take this chance and to hold on to the happiness. That is why even in very favorable circumstances sometimes children may grow up unhappy.
Happiness in not a thing nor is it a bunch of things. It is not a position nor is it financial wealth. It is a state of the soul, which occurs when something strongly desired is obtained. Imagine right now the door would open and a stranger would enter and roll in a new tire for a Ford and he would give it to me as a present. Will I be happy? Not at all. I don’t own a Ford. What will I do with that tire? But another man, an owner of a Ford, would be extremely happy! His dream would have come true!
Thus, the power of happiness does not depend on the size or content of the goal, but on the strength of the desire to have it. A man, desiring nothing, will never be happy. Here is another example, look at a woman, who people talk about, “What a happy woman! She has everything!” She, perhaps, has everything that any other woman would dream to have, but she may not be as happy as people think. Her happiness, as everyone else’s, is in what she strives for. If she does not have anything to strive for, or there is no possibility to reach a desirable objective, she is not as happy as others believe; to the contrary, she is unhappy, and, perhaps, even more unhappy than others. “But what else does she need?” People wonder about her. So we say, sometimes, the same about our children. But they, and the woman, need the same as everybody else: desires and their fulfillment. It is absurd even to ask where happiness is. It is in understanding, in a nail that was pulled out of a shoe; it is in a sudden meeting with a beloved girlfriend; in a purchase of macaroni if you wanted exactly that; it is in victory over your enemy and in victory over yourself, and in thousands and thousands of other trifling or important things.
Moreover, a man feels happy not when he reaches the summit of his dreams but when he reaches something exceeding his expectations, something above his desires. When he can say, “I had not even dreamed about this.” Happiness does not come from what was dreamed but from what was not dreamed and yet came true. Happiness is an award and a gift awaiting us in the crossroads of striving and fate. That is why personal happiness is indivisible. We can say, “I wish to take away your grief,” but we don’t say, “I wish to take away your happiness.” Of course, we can be glad for another’s happiness, “I am happy for you! I am happy to see you healthy!” To teach children to be glad for other people’s happiness and not be envious of it – this is half of the entire upbringing. And more importantly – do not be envious! Strictly saying, there is no undeserved happiness. When people ask, why someone deserves happiness, then possibly, he or she does have something that he or she deserves, but it is something that we have not been able to see yet.
From time to time we meet truly happy people. Happy people are messengers of fate, witnesses of its existence and favor. Happy people help us to hope and support our strength. Therefore children do like happy-ending stories and movies very much. Happy people – an adornment of life; they let out waves of happiness; others do not feel envy but are glad for them. A happy man may even feel guilty when there is so much misfortune around him, and he says, “I feel guilty but I am so happy.” People say, “His eyes are beaming with happiness,” and nobody asks why. And how people love couples being in love!
To raise happy children, to awaken their striving for happiness, our home can be poor or rich, whichever. But it is necessary that at least one person around a child is happy, one who would infect him with the desire for happiness and sustain his belief in this possibility.
A mother of a ten year old son came to me, complaining, asking what to do. How do I help her? I look at her and see how unhappy she is. She has devoted her life to upbringing her son, deprived herself of everything for his sake, and now she is deeply hurt by his ingratitude. In three or four years, after her “I gave you everything!” he will coldly reply, “Who asked you?” Mother thinks that if she gives him everything then he has everything. In fact, he was not given the main thing: he does not have a happy mother; he does not have a happy man around him. In this case we blame our children for unsympathetic feelings, a cruel heart, but we are not quite right. Children run away from unhappy people as they do from a contagious disease. The image of an unfortunate person undermines their yet weak belief in the possibility of happiness. It is because children are going to live, struggle for better, and believe in the best. What will they do without that faith? Not realizing why the mother irritates him, the boy separates from her by his soul, from the woman who has given him everything! What a tragedy… And the more she asks for sympathy the more difficult their relations become, because by asking for sympathy she will not bring it into the child’s heart. Mother’s unhappiness kills him. Sometimes a child cannot stand the burden of unhappiness, his soul freezes, and he becomes insensitive.
Only very well-raised children, very independent children may feel themselves protectors of their unfortunate mother (even at five, seven years old), and feel sympathy for her. They have immunity against the disease of unhappiness, they are not afraid of it. But the mother, who raised such children, as a rule, is not unhappy.
Sometimes a mother has a choice. What should she do? If she gets an important job then her son will be left without her supervision. If she gives up the job, looks after the son then she will stop developing and lose her son’s interest. What to do?
I realize the absurdity of trying to invoke happiness. I would not want to repeat after Koz’ma Prutkov: “If you want to be a happy man – be him.” But how?
Why are some people always happy and beaming and others are always unhappy, and nothing can persuade the latter that they do not have to worry? Are they optimists and pessimists? Is there a happy character and an unhappy one?
I think this completely depends on the upbringing. A child gets sick with a chronic disease of unhappiness not from unhappy circumstances but from unhappy people around him. Unhappy people cannot raise happy children; it’s impossible.
This is a very serious problem of parenting. Schools do not teach such things.
Childhood is a school where children are taught to read, to write, to count, to find rivers and cities on a map. But if the school does not become a school of joy, a school of happiness, what do we need other sciences for?
People teach children about freedom by letting them be free, teach responsibility by letting them be responsible, teach goodness and conscience – through goodness and conscience, and people teach children to be happy – by being happy.
Parenting For Everyone, by S.Soloveychik, Book1 Part 1 Chapter 23