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Aug 28, 2008

Happy or Good?

This week in Denver I have watching politicians who discuss moral choices, while I've also been hanging out with my friends' kids who have their whole lives ahead of them.  Here is a thoroughly lousy question that slid into my head while watching Obama's speech with my friend L., her mom and dad, her three young girls, and her boyfriend who is also a parent of two.

If you had to choose for your kid one of these things for the bulk of their lifetime, "you will be happy" or "you will be good," which would you pick?

10:40 PM in Misc 2008 | Permalink

Comments

I'll take false dichotomies for $500, please, Alex. :-)

I would try to teach my kids to be happy with what they had, but to always be on guard against complacency - and to be reasonably ethical at all times but not to the point of being a sucker, patsy or chump. (If you find yourself living in a culture where bribery is an accepted social norm and a requirement for doing business, you'd better get over any harsh feelings you have about the practice, for instance.)

Posted by: Barry | Aug 29, 2008 10:04:25 AM

Great question!

I wish I COULD teach my kids to be happy with what they had, like Barry says, but it's an ongoing struggle to teach MYSELF this.

Back to the "happy" vs. "good" choice. Come on, isn't "happiness" cliche? My personal (not necessarily healthy) view is that happiness is overrated. I would (and do) definitely go for "good," on the belief that happiness derives from goodness. Of course my friends are bemused by my stance, which I'm attempting to inflict upon my kids!

Seems there are more opportunities to make ourselves feel "good" than "happy." So take them...and feel good about it! :)

Posted by: --Lisa S. | Aug 29, 2008 6:30:41 PM

Good: kind, peaceful, helpful, community-minded, productive. And if you are these things, you will be happy. :)

Posted by: Valerie | Aug 31, 2008 10:13:43 PM

Because this extreme-case person is such a great, I think he found ways to be happy (and if I read anything of his, I'd probably know). But consider the parents of Nelson Mandela -- if they got to choose a scenario in which their child would be good, and would not "sell out", and would spend 27 years in prison, never knowing if he'd get out -- what would they have chosen?

I wonder if I might change the question's "be happy" to "be able to skip great pain."


Posted by: Phil | Aug 31, 2008 10:48:53 PM

(coming from a non-parent) Good parents model behavior that shows achieving happiness at least partly by doing good. I think the individual that makes a life choice to do good at the expense of his own happiness is likely to not achieve either happiness or goodness.

Posted by: Dave | Sep 3, 2008 1:31:02 PM

Heyo Phil,

Mind if I hop in late with a thought or two? I sort of agree with Barry that the choice is a false dichotomy, but I'll elaborate as to why I think it is. Happiness is internal - it's an emotion that may or may not much to do with moral decisions one way or the other. Goodness is external - defined by your moral code, in turn defined by your religion or other philosophy - and may or may not have much to do with happiness. I think we've all read accounts of people living extremely happy lives in what we think of as squalor and/or oppression.

As for the second choice - happiness vs. freedom from pain, one could make the case that one _is_ the other to some degree, though, ironically, one probably must encounter pain to some degree to truly appreciate its absence. To use a metaphor (old habits Do. Not. Die.) The appreciation of a great peak can be great when looking at it from a surrounding plain, but even more so when compared with a deep valley.

For kids today, it is not, in my opinion, too much to hope and expect both happiness and goodness from them. Pain, to some degree is unavoidable, and I hope they never have to make choices like those Mandela had to make. Hopefully we give them the guidance and tools to find both the good and happiness in the balance of their choices.

Posted by: Noam | Sep 12, 2008 10:01:16 AM