Tuesday, August 09, 2022

The Secret To Happiness

As the new school year starts, a common practice for early childhood educators to ask parents to tell us their greatest hopes for their children. It was something I adopted during my first couple years as an teacher, expecting to learn something important about the children's families, but eventually gave up on it because, in my community at least, virtually everyone replied with some version of wanting their kids to "be happy" or to "love learning."

From where I sit, the first was largely impossible, while the later was largely inevitable.

We are born with an instinct for learning. That's what curiosity is, that's what play is. We can crush the natural love to learn with schooling and schoolish-ness, of course, but since Woodland Park has a child-lead, play-based curriculum, I had no concerns about the children from that perspective.

Happiness on the other hand is a strange emotion in that, as Aristotle pointed out, it is the one emotion that tends to disappear when we try to examine it. We can all sit down with our other emotions and figure out what's causing them, but happiness is too slippery for that. It doesn't stand still for close examination and this is especially true when we are concerned with the happiness of others. Happiness doesn't want to be examined, it wants to be experienced and, frankly, hallelujah for that.

As psychologist and Teacher Tom's Play Summit presenter Vanessa LaPointe tells us, it's easy to get "duped into the belief that it's your job to make the child be happy." She's talking about parenting, but it also applies to any caring adult. Of course, we wish for the happiness of others, but when we try to manufacture it we will fail. And when the truth is told, the most important things we ever learn are the products of experiencing all of our emotions. Happiness isn't a very good teacher. Indeed, it's the so-called negative emotions like frustration or sadness or pain or even anger, that teach us the most.

When we try, and inevitably fail, to make our children happy, we then, as Dr. LaPointe tells us, become "alarmed and full of angst," which in turn makes the children alarmed and full of angst. Our job, as important adults in the lives of children is not to manufacture anything, least of all happiness, but rather to allow them to grow toward their highest potential, or as Vanessa puts it, "the fullest version of themselves, so that they can then be happy."

Indeed, it is at this point, and only this point, that learning and happiness hold hands. It's here that we see that both learning and happiness manifest as lifelong pursuits, driven by curiosity. This is why Aristotle was convinced that the only way to know whether or not we've lived a happy life is from the perspective of the end, when we cast our gaze back over our lives and see that we've lived as the fullest version of ourselves. That is, in the end, the hope for all of us.

The secret to happiness is to allow it.


To watch my full interview with Vanessa, please join us August 13-17 for the free Teacher Tom's Play Summit. Click here to get your free pass and learn more about all 20 of our incredible sessions with early childhood experts and thought-leaders from around the world. You will be inspired, informed, and challenged. Professional development certificates are available and you can upgrade to unlimited access. Please share this far and wide. Let's allow happiness!

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