Did you know that a wide range of consistent research across a variety of fields has concluded that children have a significant negative impact on the happiness and emotional well being of their parents?
The reasoning apparently goes that since children are no longer of any economic benefit to a family, parents look to benefit emotionally from their kids. In other words, to make up for the revenue their children aren’t generating, the hope is that they will generate happiness instead. As such, children can become the “ultimate lifestyle accessory”.
The problem with lifestyle accessories is—as we all know only too well-- that rarely (if ever) do they deliver the happiness promised. And it would seem that children are no exception in this regard. To which I can only imagine a person saying, “Of course.”
Of course if the meaning of life is to be happy, and of course if happiness is defined in terms of getting as much money as possible, having as many exotic experiences as imaginable, dining in as many fine restaurants as conceivable, pleasuring in as many nice things as our hearts desire, then—of course—people with no children will be happier than those of us whose procreational decisions have required us to make rather significant sacrifices in all these areas. (Perhaps it’s worth noting at this point that much of modern research seems to indicate that pets DO make people happier.)
Personally, however, I’ve found that happiness so defined is rather overrated. Sure, it’s nice in the moment. But those moments don’t last, and the law of diminishing returns say they become more and more elusive. I may be constructing reality the way I want it to be, and doing so to justify the decisions I’ve made—that is always a possibility. But it may also be that the most profound happiness is not found by focusing on “me” (my pleasure, my happiness, my emotional well-being) at all, but by focusing on others, and that it is not found in the short term but the long run.
If that is true, then children are one of the greatest gifts a person can be given—but only if we allow them to be the unique people they were created to be, and not an accouterment shaped through “concerted cultivation” to our personal advantage.
It's not often we can have the best of both worlds, but maybe today you can. Normally, sleeping in means missing the sunrise, and seeing the sunrise means not sleeping in. But maybe today you can have both.
If you slept in and enjoyed staying in your nice warm bed, good for you. One of the nice things about holiday weekends is that sometimes we can get relaxed enough to get the rest we need.
Here's a few pictures of the sunrise so you can enjoy it too. Even when it was still quite dark, the sky had a lot of color. But when the light grew, it was really something spectacular, the kind of moment where you just sit and drink in the glory, and think here is yet another reason to give thanks with all my heart.
1. Don't complain about anything today. Not one single thing. Not our country, people who hold different views about anything, family members, the weather, food, our jobs, the economy, big business, protesters... Nothing. Look for the good stuff in life today, and resolutely refuse to go negative.
2. Speaking of the good stuff, take some time to reflect on your life and remember how much we have to be grateful for. This, by the way, makes an excellent topic of discussion around the Thanksgiving table.
3. Do something nice for somebody. Help with the cooking. Set the table. Help with the clean up. Write a thanksgiving poem telling folks gathered at the table how crazy you are about them. I dunno. Be creative.
4. Spend quality time with the people you love. Don’t rush from the dinner table. Talk. Don’t spend the whole day in front of the TV. Take a walk together. OK, you’ve checked Facebook. Now turn off the computer. Play games. Pet the cat.
5. Remember who we are thankful to. Who is ultimately responsible for all the good that is in our lives? Is it all of our own doing? I know the "new atheism" is very much in vogue right now, and I do appreciate some of the reasons why. But I think this above all else may be the reason why I don't think I could ever be one. I just can't bring myself to say that my great intelligence, ingenuity, excellent choices, hard work, social skills, schooling, and so on, are the sole reason I am so ... blessed.
So for me, at least, Thanksgiving would not be Thanksgiving without taking time to join the Five Man Electrical Band in saying, "Thank you, Lord, for thinking about me, I'm alive, and doing fine!"
A question that anyone who has kids asks themselves is, “What makes a good parent?” I’ve thought a lot about that, and maybe you have too.
One of the answers is that I’ve been considering is to see successful parenting as the ability to pass on the truly important things we love the most. So, for instance, if a parent deeply loves nature, he hopes his children will love nature too. If a parent has a deep concern for social justice, she hopes her children will love social justice too. If you are a Christian like I am, you hope your kids will love Jesus too.
Sometimes, if a parent is particularly good at kindling in the heart of a child the love of things that he holds dear (like classic rock and roll), that love may even be passed down through the generations. And when that happens, it seems to me at least that it creates a legacy that fills her family's life with great joy.
You know, like when a grandfather manages to pass the love of peanut butter pie down through the generations so that his granddaughter loves it too…!
For parents, teachers, and leaders of every sort, there is nothing more important than moral authority. While a person’s title may lead people to obey him when he is around, it is only moral authority that gives him lasting or pervasive influence when he isn't. While a person’s position may give her the ability to force people to comply, it is only moral authority that causes people to listen.
Parents are often confused about why their children don’t do what they say. But it’s really not that confusing. After having heart to heart talks with kids for over 30 years now, I can tell you they are equally confused about why their parents aren't doing what they have just told their kids they should do! Kids are smart, perceptive, and brutally honest in their assessment of things. They are well aware when we do not act in accord with what we say we believe, when we do not really live out the values we profess.
For example, I always tried to teach my kids not to play with alligators. But of course I was always interacting with reptiles of every sort. So although Linda and I were horrified to find our younger daughter trying to ride an alligator, I suppose it really shouldn’t have surprised us at all…
On Saturday, we had a toy sale at our church. Folks brought in their “lightly used” toys, and we then sold them for $1 apiece. A few were $5, but we weren’t sticklers on the price. The point was to help out people who are struggling financially, not to make money. It is interesting that in what is apparently the wealthiest county in the country right now we have so many poor people. I loved watching the kids come in and play with the toys and then leave with a huge smile because they were actually able to get what they wanted.
While this was going on, another community family was selling empanadas. They are recently from Peru. Like many families new to this country, even though they don’t make much money themselves they still send money to their family back home. They may be poor in this country, but the poverty back home is far worse.
Anyway, that’s what this family was doing—selling homemade empanadas to make a little extra money to send back home to aid in the care of a sick relative. They did this at our clothing sale last month as well, so this time I was prepared. I brought a bunch of one dollar bills, and just kept buying empanadas and handing them out.
It was such a win-win. At a buck a piece, I could give as freely as I’ve always wanted to give without breaking the bank. On just the purely “giving” level, that in itself felt so good. But since I also love food, there was the added enjoyment of watching people eat these delicious treats! Everybody loved them. And then finally, there was the great joy of helping this family. We did not share the same verbal language, but we did share big smiles, and perhaps that said everything that needed to be said. They would laugh when I kept coming back again and again and again. Apparently their little boy thought I was eating them all myself!
So many rich folks dream of having still more money. But if they only knew how good it is to give it away, I think they just might dream of that instead.