My children were having a debate the other day about whether it is better to be a kid or an adult. The vote was evenly split as my younger ones argued that it was preferential to be a grownup since no one would "tell you what you had to do" and "you could have all the money you wanted" (Really? Where do they get these notions?).
However my older kids, who have had a teeny tiny taste of responsibility, think it is best to remain a child as long as possible. They argued, "You don't want to grow up and be like mom! She has to work to buy the food, cook the food and clean up the food all the time!" But the little ones were not swayed replying, "Yeah, but she likes to do all that!"
Is this just the rhythm of life or an unnecessary string of dissatisfaction? I think if we are not careful we could end up spending our entire lives longing for the next season. Isn't that sad? When will we learn to enjoy the moment we are in?
Yet even I readily remember feeling the same way as my kids do; believing it is best to be older. My parents then, gave me the same advice I give my children now. Which makes me wonder; is it always in our nature to want what we don't have?
I think this is a terrible trap for the mind; to be in a constant state of want. I want a new phone. I want a better paying job. I want more/less kids. I want. I want. I want. (Incidentally my kids recently had a terrible case of the gimmees until we cut out cable television. They are no longer overexposed to advertisements and therefore haven't asked me to buy them anything in weeks! It's a sweet relief!)
There is one problem with always wanting more. When we want more we must work more which means we end up having less time to enjoy the things and people we love. I fear we've forgotten a basic truth; we don't need a lot to be happy. Commercials and advertisers work very hard at sending you the message that you need their phone/soap/makeup/brand to be happy but they are lying to us. If it were true, we'd be happy by now. We've bought the stuff they said would make our lives happier and better and yet we remain dissatisfied. We still want for more.
This is hard for my children to understand. In their lack of life experience they truly believe we would be better off with every product sold on T.V. What I really, really want them to learn though, is that a person can absolutely have a lot of money and possessions but if they always want more they could in fact, be poorer than the person who has little and wants nothing.
I hope that I can teach my kids to be grateful for even the smallest pleasures in life. Wouldn't it be wonderful if they knew firsthand the joy of a nap in a hammock, fishing on a quiet lake, riding so fast down a hill your stomach drops, seeing a falling star, forgetting to check the time and getting lost in a good book? These are the pleasures of living well without costing much.
These are my hopes and dreams for my children but I fear our technologically advanced ways and cultural demands may be too overbearing and contradicting to my ideals. Recently, USA Today reported that one in 20 college graduates won't take a job if the employer won't let them shop online. If that is true I mourn for the next generation.
A happy life is not comprised of a collection of things. A happy life is experienced when you can fall asleep at night feeling safe, loved and satisfied with what you have, not with what you still want. Why? Because I'm the mom and I said so! That's why!
(This article appears in the Tuesday 5/15/12 edition of the Daily Review Atlas as a part of my weekly Practical Parenting series)