A debate about the desirability of happiness in the lives of your children opened from an unusual source recently.
Broadcaster Kirsty Young, writing in the Radio Times to celebrate the 70th birthday of Desert Island Discs which she presents, wrote “I don’t want my children to be 'happy'.”
“They will be bloody lucky if they glimpse it now and again. I want them to be content and have self-worth.”
The distinction between contentment and happiness is a fine one. I agree happiness is transitory in its nature. Often we don’t appreciate it the most until it’s gone. But I wouldn’t dissuade my children from pursuing its glimpses.
It’s difficult to say “I’m happy” without looking over your shoulder. But it’s impossible to say “I will be happy when…” with any definite certainty.
But you can say with absolute conviction “I was happy when…” Lucky are those that can say that.
Contentment suggests - once achieved - a continuing serenity, which might be fine if you’re a monk or a nun but doesn’t strike me as being much fun.
Self-worth, however, is a different issue. Without it you can't be happy nor content. I’m with Young in wishing our children self-worth as a foundation on which to develop the fully-rounded individual.
I don’t know my child psychology well enough but I wager it's a lot easier for a parent to encourage self-worth in their children than promoting the basis for either happiness or contentment in their later lives.