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The myths of happiness

WHEN MY CHILDREN WERE YOUNG, my wife and I focused our child-rearing efforts on nurturing intellectual enthusiasm, self-discipline, kindness, empathy, honesty, and ambition. I don’t think we spent 10 minutes worrying about whether our kids were going to be happy. Of course they were. How could they not? They had loving and attentive parents who got along well with each other and grandparents who doted on them, they went to good schools, and they lived in a warm and supportive community.

As my kids got older, approaching the age of the students I taught, a light bulb suddenly went on in my blinkered brain. Most of the kids I taught were just like my kids. They had parents who loved them, came from good communities and schools, had been nurtured and protected throughout their childhoods. Yet plenty of these kids didn’t seem to be happy. They were anxious, they were depressed, they were unenthusiastic about their work, and they were uncertain about their futures. I suddenly realized that happiness is not something to be taken for granted (I can hear you saying “duh!”). When I came to this blinding insight, my parenting aims turned on a dime. I also discovered that my wife had appreciated this all along, and that equipping our kids to be happy had always been part of her parenting agenda.

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