John Trindle at The Fogbound Continuum has a great piece on the difference between making people happy and making happy people. It is the latter that is indeed the challenge as it flies in the face of the mantra of materialism: things, events, even other people, can and should MAKE us happy. Perhaps they bring on a temporary state of pleasure, but long-term happiness is a personal responsibility that, as John suggests, can be encouraged through trusting, respectful relationships.
John wrote, “A happy household relies on trust and respect, not trips to Disney or the latest toy,” which reminded me of two car commercials that played throughout the holiday season this year; I winced every time I saw them. The first one included the tag line: “Let’s face it: no one ever asked for a smaller Christmas present.” The second showed a couple admiring their new car, complete with big red bow, but their happy smiles turned to envious scowls when their neighbors drove past in their own, much more desirable new car. Now, I’ll admit to not knowing much about cars but both vehicles looked very similar to me.
Those scowling people in the commercial represent the very real challenge we face in trying to raise kids who don’t equate happiness with stuff even as we sometimes have to remind ourselves of that as well. I’m no humbug: I like giving gifts as much as the next person but when giving and getting become a competitive sport, something has gone very wrong.
I’ll end with Wordsworth whose lines about “getting and spending” seem to resonate here:
The world is too much with us; late and soon
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.–Great God!I’d rather be
A pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
Thanks, John, for the inspiration!