The BBC had an interesting article yesterday called Why are Dutch children so happy? that went on to explain why the Netherlands was at the top of a recently published Child Wellbeing Report produced by UNICEF. (By the way, the United States – perhaps unsurprisingly – rates pretty much near the bottom compared to Europe and Canada). The lead-in to the article reads:
Dutch children have been rated the most fortunate children in Europe. Their parents go out of their way to please them, and teachers expect less of them than some of their European counterparts.
Well, that’s not exactly how the UNICEF report portrays the Netherlands, but does raise some interesting questions when we think not only about our own children (regardless of which country you call home) but own lives at work. How much is our own happiness tied to having things go our way? Can there be happiness in our challenges and struggles?
Let’s take this example from the BBC article:
18-year-old Ysbrand, a student in Helmond near Eindhoven, says this picture matched his childhood. He says that his parents spent a lot of time with him when he was younger. His mother stayed at home while his father worked.
But, he said the contrast when you get to 18 can be something of a shock.
“Now I’m left to look after myself,” he told the BBC News website. “My parents say that I need to care for myself and to be independent. It’s hard. I don’t have much money as a student and to go out is expensive. Beer, for example, is very expensive in the Netherlands.”
By focusing on what will make us happy right now, we postpone possible future pain. Not that we shouldn’t aim for joy in our life, but we need to be honest with ourselves and consider whether our present experience – even if it does suck – won’t make us a better person down the road. Sometimes we need to unhappy in order to learn how to be happy. I can certainly remember painful experiences in my life that were hellish in their own special way, but in reflection I’m so glad that they were my experiences. I wouldn’t be half the person I am today without them.
And I hope this doesn’t seem like I’m picking on the Dutch. Frankly, I don’t think the example of Ysbrand above is all that different from some of the experiences I’ve seen from fellow parents here in the U.S. The desire to coddle and over-protect kids transcends borders and culture.
Today, we’re challenged to look at our own happiness and determine whether that happiness is real or is simply deferring pain for another time. Ask whether that graduate degree that might be challenging and even painful to undertake might lead to a better tomorrow for you. Ask whether the pain of quitting your job might not be the first step toward finding your own soulful work. Remember that happiness sometimes means taking the hard and painful path.