(thanks for the inspiration Asif Rahman)
"What will I grow up to be Mummy?"
This is a very important question - in fact, it is almost the most important question we can ask. We live in an age where each generation is being forced to ask (and answer) this question earlier than their parents. The generally accepted answer to this question (directly or indirectly) is "SUCCESSFUL".
We carefully select the most highly-trained babysitters and give our babies DHA and other supplements to boost brain development, we send our children Montessori and later to elite nursery schools, after school "enrichment" including math, science, art, music (especially piano), and hire expensive tutors to boost their academic performance. We become smart but we fail to become wise. We can develop skills, but can we truly be "successful"? Do we even know what that means?
Television programs, commercials, movies and magazines subconsciously push us to seek unrealistic standards of wealth, power and beauty, and to despair when we don't achieve them. This leads to depression, apathy, and a loss of direction or sense of purpose for many young people. The emphasis on material, tangible, conspicuous consumption, often at the expense of real defining experiences, encourages us to think that success can be bought and need not necessarily be earned. Our "successful" parents spent a disproportionate amount of time working, and still less than we do, and less than our children might do (if we are not careful).
Where did we go astray?
I am father to two boys, one already a teenager.
We have been frugal with them, at the same time trying to make sure they did not suffer just to develop "virtue" or "character". What do I want from them? What would success for them mean to me (as their father)? What do I want them to grow up to be?? I have thought about this a lot over the years, and this helped me answer Asif's post when he put it on Facebook.
I want my boys to grow up to be HAPPY.
Not more than this, but also, very importantly, not less than this.
When I say "happy" what do I mean? Happiness comes in many forms, and I am not simply talking about the delirious, carefree happiness we feel just being silly and laughing for no reason (although sometimes this is essential). Happiness can also be found by achieving goals we set that we feel are important to us, or also very importantly, by helping others to be safe and happy. Happiness can come from the satisfaction of investing in ourselves and the people around us, investing in relationships that will stand the test of time and support us when we are in need. Happiness comes from being confident in ourselves and our abilities, but also from setting our own goals and not just achieving for the sake of other peoples' opinions of us.
happiness comes from learning to listen to the Inner Voice, the voice of our eternal soul, which helps us to discover our purpose in this incarnation, and to continue our spiritual journey - not specific to any "textbook" religion. Our souls are above that, just as our souls are above seeing each other as flesh and blood (beautiful or ugly, or with different skin color). The soul sees only the soul - pure and true, all of us on the same journey. We may go so far as to say we are happiest when our soul is in balance and at peace, following the path it must follow to evolve and progress.
I intentionally leave some aspects such as career, place of residence, wealth/social status out of my definition. We have a need for basic comforts, safety and security, and I do not think we all need to be Zen monks (although some of us need to be because our soul tells us so).
While the above are good guidelines, happiness can only come from knowing ourselves fully. That means investing the time in experiences, good and bad, that help us define what is best for us. We will make mistakes, many mistakes along the way - the key is to stay focused on learning and growing physically, mentally, spiritually. The sad truth is that we can probably be happier with far less possessions than we have. Less is truly more, and simplicity has its own reward.
As I mention above, while we should all aspire to be happy and expend our maximum effort to define for ourselves what and how that needs to be, it is equally important to make a promise to ourselves not to settle for anything less than happiness. Being happy, in the forms I describe above, is enough and we do not need more. At the same time, far too many people settle for less than happiness. Less than happiness in their careers, their homes, their partners, their families, their friends. Accepting less than happiness is a terrible compromise that contributes to our own suffering and that of those around us. We must start by knowing, truly KNOWING, that we have worth as human beings, and that we DESERVE TO BE HAPPY as we define it. It is our right as a living creature, no different from that of any other living creature. It is important to expect the best from ourselves, so that we can develop a habit of excellence in what we do, and allow ourselves the happiness of satisfaction which comes from achieving our best and growing to do and be more than we were. Please don't settle for less than happiness. You deserve it.
It is never too late to grow up - especially if you choose to grow up to be happy.