I was flipping through a local magazine for moms last week when I came across an interview with the cover mom, a local business owner. One of the questions, thrown unceremoniously into the middle of the interview, was, “Your biggest wish for your kids is…” Can you guess the answer?
“To be happy and to be loved.”
Easy, right? We all want our kids to be happy, and loved. I’d also add “healthy”.
When I read it, though, something felt off. It seemed too flip, too easy, too obvious. Maybe I was just reading too quickly and didn’t accord her answer the gravitas it deserved. (Though I’m totally on board with the “to be loved” part of her answer.)
But her answer bothered me that day, and I kept thinking about it. I was sitting with August, who was working his way through a much-too-large pain au chocolat, his treat for going to the doctor for vaccinations. (I was working my way through hash browns topped with chile rellenos from the market’s hot bar.) Of course I want my kids to be happy, I thought. That’s so obvious. But…what does that mean?
Not to get into a philosophical treatise on happiness, but as a concept it’s sort of vague, right? I know I’ve dedicated a whole section of my blog to it so it might seem like I easily embrace it as a life goal for myself or my children. But when it comes to defining it as a life goal, it falters; it needs something else to underpin it.
That something, for me, is meaning. My biggest wish for my kids is that they live lives of meaning. That they believe that their lives matter, and the lives of the people around them matter, and what they do matters. I don’t really care whether they pursue their passion for their careers or simply find jobs that pay the bills, but I do want them to feel that the work they do matters enough that it doesn’t leave them feeling empty. Maybe they will find passion in their jobs, or maybe they’ll find it in a hobby, or maybe they’ll find it while being in service to their community, or maybe they’ll find it in travel or faith or making music, but I do hope they find a confluence of meaning and passion that carries them through their lives, especially through the dark times.
In writing that, I realize that maybe that’s why I don’t wish them “happiness” as their greatest goal: because I know that they will go through dark times. I don’t know a life that hasn’t gone through a dark time (or two, or more). What gets us to the other side of these dark times, at least somewhat intact, is a sense of meaning, and often a sense of community or being loved. Happiness is such a small word, one that doesn’t recognize the fullness of experience that comes from being human, being broken, and being mended.
Happiness doesn’t carry us through the days. Happiness, we hope, alights upon us or we desperately seek it and grasp it at times, but either way it feels like an external object or experience, something glimmery and transient, a visitation rather than an abiding state. Whereas meaning does indeed carry us through our days and years, and is something we carry internally, whose locus rests somewhere amidst our heart and our brain and our gut and connects the often disparate threads of life.
For me, meaning has often come in community, by holding and being held by others; it has also come on trails and mountains and in dark valleys. I hope that my children feel themselves held in beloved community, and I hope that they find great solace and connection in the natural world.
I hope more than anything that they feel they are living meaningful lives.
What do you most wish for your children? How do you foster that, or equip them to achieve it?
Photos by James. At last—photos of me!