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Children's happiness is not my job
By Ana Veciana-Suarez
It may come as a surprise - at least it did to me - that our children are not only happy, but also that we, boring Dad and clueless Mom, are a main source of that contentment. I need to remember this, to hold this thought oh-so-close, when the next argument erupts over messy bedrooms, undone chores and broken curfews.
An MTV/Associated Press study that made headlines this week found that 65 percent of surveyed children between 13 and 24 are happy with their lives. Only one of five say they are unhappy.
This news flies in the face of anecdotal evidence. Sulkiness is a perennial adolescent fashion.
But that's to be expected. We often see our children at their worst. When they've overslept for school. When a friend has dumped them. When they're cut from the baseball team. So we bear the brunt of back talk. Yet, spending time with family was their top source of happiness, according to this survey.
For parents scurrying through the annual back-to-school craze, this reassurance surely comes as a relief. Then again, maybe we've known it all along. Maybe we've known it for generations. Maybe even carried it in our DNA.
But maybe only now has it seemed to matter so much.
I can't ever remember anyone's asking me if I was happy when I was a kid. My parents certainly didn't ask. They were too busy making a living and making us behave. I doubt they felt responsible for our happiness.
My grandparents? They did things that made my siblings and me happy. They ferried us to the beach almost every afternoon in the summers. They sneaked us "pastelitos" before dinner. They showed us how to plant a tree, fertilize a garden. But would they have asked us what made us happy? Not in this lifetime.
These days, however, navel gazing - that fine art of quantifying how we feel every single moment, then sharing it with others as if it mattered - has become de rigueur. MTV's study is only the latest foray in a long line of scientific analyses into what makes us happy. Within the last three months I have read one report or another about how individually and collectively happy - or gloomy - we are.
Earlier this summer, for example, an AP-IPSOS poll found that only 25 percent of those surveyed believed the country was headed in the right direction. Another study reported that optimists have fewer heart attacks and experience less pain than pessimists. And one report noted that Denmark and Finland scored higher on the happy meter than Europeans from the Mediterranean, this despite a high suicide rate and long winters.
Does it matter, really?
Color me skeptical when it comes to measuring happiness. The feeling of bliss is much too fickle. Some days I'm happy. Some days I'm blue. Some days I swing from one extreme to another. I suspect my children, and most everyone else, plod along day to day in the same way.
While it's heartwarming that family, friendship and religion keep the kiddies content, my responsibility isn't to make them so. That would be like chasing a rainbow to its end. My job is to set boundaries, enforce rules, teach manners, model compassion, supervise education, exemplify love. Me, I'd much rather pursue a more important trait: resiliency.
That will surely see them through the glummest of days.
Ana Veciana-Suarez is a family columnist for The Miami Herald. Write to her at The Miami Herald, One Herald Plaza, Miami FL 33132, or end e-mail to aveciana(AT)herald.com.
(c) 2007, The Miami Herald.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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