Why Happiness Is the Enemy of Excellence in Our Children
July 23, 2012
Why Happiness Is the Enemy of Excellence in Our Children
By Harry H. Harrison Jr.

I can hear it now.

"What? Don't we want our kids happy?  That's the whole purpose of parenthood!"

Trust me. That kind of thinking is the problem.

Parents would rather their child be happy than excellent.  That's just a fact of life.  Few parents alive would trade their kid's present day happiness for future excellence.  We want our children to be happy.  Not just content, but wildly, insanely happy.  This is why we throw $2,000 birthday parties for 3-year-olds, why preteen girls are now enjoying $1,000 spa days, and why parents will buy their teenager a $50,000 car.  We want them to be ecstatic and feel joyful, and seeing them so exultant makes us happy and feel like good parents.  But the converse is also true: seeing them unhappy makes us feel like rotten parents.

Focusing on our children's happiness has become nothing short of a national obsession. When we go to bed at night, we don't worry if our children are becoming excellent.  We worry if they are happy, or if a principal, coach, or teacher has made them uncomfortable.

And the worry that our kids might suffer pain from losing has led to ribbons and trophies for not falling down dead during a race, the elimination of spelling bees, and even the abolition of valedictorians because other students could get distraught that even though they "did everything right," they didn't make it.  It's also led to such ridiculous grade inflation that some "top" high school students can't pass freshman college English.

Many athletic leagues don't keep score for the simple reason that everyone needs to leave happy.  We're destroying our children's competitive drive because any competition will produce winners and losers, and OMG!, losers will be unhappy.  No wonder America is losing its excellence.

We fear our children aren't happy enough, they're not popular enough, they don't have enough, they have to work too hard, and they're not being treated fairly.  These fears shape the way we raise them.  Instead of teaching them how to struggle, we eliminate struggle from their lives.  Instead of teaching them how to persevere, we tell them not to try so hard.  Instead of teaching them to do without, we teach them that all they have to do is ask.  Instead of teaching them to be adventurous, we make them risk adverse.  Instead of teaching them how to succeed, we continually ask them if they are happy.  So our kids grow up parent dependent instead of independent.  Our continual focus on their happiness creates wildly unhappy grown children.

It's natural to say, "I just want my kids to be happy."  But we need to realize happiness isn't a goal, but the result of how you live your life, how you face difficulties, and how you overcome struggles.  The secret to happiness isn't in "acquiring things" and "avoiding consequences," but in achieving success, serving others, and maintaining your personal morals and values.  We think if our kids are happy, we're good parents.  If they're unhappy, we must be terrible parents.  Their unhappiness sears us to the soul.  We must take action, or give in, or buy or excuse or defend.  We forget that most teenagers haven't been happy since they were 13.

What we need to do is take a moment to measure the cause and impact of their present day unhappiness.  Are they unhappy because they were caught cheating?  Because they don't have an iPhone?  Because they're 14 and just, you know, unhappy?  Instead of rushing around to change something or buy something, maybe it would be better to hug them, feed them, listen to their complaints about how life sucks and how other kids have it easier, and ask them what they themselves could do to make their life happier before sending them back upstairs.

We need to become more comfortable with our children learning uncomfortable lessons even if it means they're unhappy.  If you're tempted to come to their rescue or buy them out of their unhappiness, you must ask yourself this question: "What can I do to that will help them become a healthier adult?"  Don't collapse under the strain of your child's unhappiness.  Show your kids how to deal with it: read the assigned chapters two or three times so cheating isn't necessary; get organized so the wrong books aren't brought home; develop some gratitude instead of envying other people's stuff; accept responsibility and deal with the consequences that come with bad decisions.

As parents we need to remember the following: happiness does not produce excellence. Excellence, however, produces happiness.

So many parents and educators have it turned around.

Excerpted from Fearless Parenting, Raising a Child to Face the Adult World by Harry H. Harrison Jr.  To sample the first chapter visit http://amzn.to/J4mc4b.  Harry is a New York Times best-selling parenting author with over 3.5 million books in print. He has been interviewed on over 25 television programs and featured in over 75 local and national radio stations including NPR. His books are available in over 35 countries throughout Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Norway, South America, China, Saudi Arabia, and in the Far East. For more information visit www.fearlessparenting.com.  Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com.

Posted by Staff at 7:04 AM