I came across this article in Crisis starting from the news that a Scottish mother has rejected the “my children must be happy” mantra that has apparently taken hold in Britain. Partly it seems this happiness hype is a reaction to the UNICEF finding that Brit kids are the most miserable in the wealthy world, and the Government have scraped together one and a half million to find out why. The article says that some bloke has come up with a new word for happiness – flourishing. But as Plato liked to use flourising and happiness together in his Republic perhaps it’s not so much a new word as an old one with the dust blown off. But the Greeks were as accurate about happiness and love as the Inuit are about snow. They had a number of words where we only seem to have one.
One of the words that Plato used was “hedonism” and this, I think, is the happiness of Britain. Or rather, it’s what Brits think is happiness. We are not grateful for a nice house where the roof and widows fit well and keep out the cold, and having enough good quality food to eat and clean water and clothes. We are not grateful because the bar has moved to include lots of stuff, stuff of gadgets and stuff of fancy clothing and stuff of food that isn’t basic and stuff of holidays in expensice places for as long as possible and stuff…you get the picture. It is why so many parents, including some home ed ones, face the “But everyone else has it!” protest from their older children. This is usually coupled with the “But everyone else is allowed to!” protest.
I like the idea of my children being happy, but I think they will only find happiness and contentment if they are grateful. If they recognise that everything they have is a blessing, a gift and that they should be saying thank you.
Gratitude is taught in the everyday prayer life of many families. The most obvious time being Grace Before Meals and Night Prayers with dad in our house.
I don’t like the translation of Scripture we use at Mass- and I am hoping with the New Translation we might get a new translation of the Scriptures too. It’s the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus preaches the Beatitudes. In our Mass these have become the Happitudes. It grates.
Happy are those that mourn? Hardly. The whole business of grief is very painful and the last thing you feel is happy. You could be blessed though, with the grace to grieve and love and let go. Blessed and Happy seem to me to be two completely different words.
I am blessed, very blessed in fact, in that God gives me the grace and strength to get through each day with this illness. It does not make me happy. Being in pain and unable to breathe well and so on isn’t going to make me happy – but I am content and I am blessed.
When it comes to the children I think it is way more important that they are blessed and joyful (in the Lord) than that they are happy. The best way for our children to be blessed is by loving them. Love, going back to the good ol’Greeks comes in different flavours and the flavour we are called to give to our children and others is agape – that is passion, a pouring out of ourselves for the other.
When it comes right down to it the reason so many British kids claim to be unhappy, despite all the stuff they have, is because they are not loved. Not because they don’t feel loved – but because they aren’t loved. A parent who is never there and buys loads of stuff to try and make up for it is never going to have a “happy” child. And in Britain most parents are hardly ever there. In fact the whole two income culture is no entrenched that mothers on maternity leave or who try to stay home and budget accordingly often get so isolated as no one else is home, and the local children groups have no mothers there, that they end up going back to work just to be like everyone else.
British culture has never really put children’s genuine welbeing first. Victorian Britain had an astonishingly shameful attitude to children who were either seen and not heard or cheap to slave labour. Under the work of people like Dickens and Wilberforce things slowly changed. Charlotte Mason stepped up to the plate as the 20th century loomed and she spoke and wrote for children, reminding mothers in Bradford not to abandon their children to nursery staff. She spoke and wrote against the creeping view that children should be institutionalised before the age of 7.
And today Broke Britain is pouring money we don’t have into studies we don’t need to tell us what we ought to already know – children need to be at home with mum and dad until they are older – around the age of 7 perhaps – and that a stable loving family home is good for them.