The Weekly Bulldog
October 4, 2018
From Tim: Meaning & Happiness
When we’re pushed to think about what we really want for our children, often we come up with some version of just wanting our kids to be happy. We want them to be productive, find fulfillment in relationships, work and play, and ultimately find happiness in this gift of life. I enjoyed re-finding a piece in the Atlantic from 2013 written by Emily Smith, called “There’s More to Life Than Being Happy.” In it, she draws a careful distinction between the pursuit of “happiness” and the search for “meaning.” In doing so, she argues, backed by research, that those seeking simple happiness in which “things go well, needs and desire are easily satisfied, and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided,” often feel less long-term contentment with their lives. A study she quotes found that 60% of Americans feel happy, though another study found 40% don’t think their lives have a clear sense of purpose.
Smith references the life and work of holocaust survivor and author Viktor Frankl, who articulates the importance of meaning in human existence. In “Man’s Search for Meaning,” he wrote, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing, the last of the human freedoms, - to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” He found that often those who survived in concentration camps were able to still find meaning in the midst of suffering, to realize that “life was still expecting something from them; something in the future was expected of them.” Once a person understands the “why” of his or her life, Frankl argues, that person can bear almost any “how.”
Another study Smith examines showed that people who find a high level of meaning in their lives often seek meaning even when they know they might be less “happy” while seeking it. She uses the example of having children, which tends to provide meaning but not necessarily happiness as described above. She quotes the author of the study as saying, “Partly what we do as human beings is to take care of others and contribute to others. This makes life meaningful but it does not necessarily make us happy.”
I wouldn’t suggest that we as parents give up on wanting our children to be happy. Though I do think about what responsibility we have as parents and teachers to help our children discover purpose in their lives, even at a young age. Clearly one’s sense of purpose and meaning evolves throughout life, though it seems that helping children see the role they have in taking care of others (family, pets, environment) is essential in building the lifelong habit of reflecting on one’s purpose and meaning.
This article also made me reflect on the nature of teaching or parenting, and the parallels between them. Just as many of us would admit that parenting doesn’t always make us “happy,” we recognize that every classroom moment and interaction doesn’t necessarily contribute to a teacher’s experience of happiness. But it sure provides meaning and purpose, and in end that’s what really matters. In Frankl’s words, “The more one forgets himself- by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love- the more human he is.”
All the best,
Top Five Things
1. A good place to learn
Peek inside the newly revamped learning spaces serving all students in the Middle School. The Middle School Learning Resource Team tells how the pieces come together to make a prepared learner.
2. In the loop when it matters
3. Spirit Week, and Grade-Level, and Conferences - oh no!
5. Best date night of the year ahead
Last day for Lost & Found
Fall Break - NO SCHOOL
Middle School Dance
School Spirit Day - Show your Stanley pride
B-I-N-G-O takes the 8th graders one big step closer to bon voyage - thanks everyone!
Thanks to our family and event sponsors and the entire community for supporting the class of 2019! Last weekend's event raised more than $25K -- bringing our 8th graders that much closer to their trip to England. See a photo gallery on the stanleybps.org/bingo page.