It seems lately that everyone is wondering what happiness is and whether it is worth chasing or can even be caught. Amy Chua suggests it comes from achievement, the achievement of yourself and your own children (although in a subsequent article, she seemed to revise some of her thoughts, suggesting that sometimes you have to accept that a child is different than you want them to be).
Author Paulo Coehlo says his goals in life are to have challenges and have fun, not to be happy. Michelle Rhee, former Washington, D.C. superintendent (who now resides in my hometown of Sacramento), suggests this generation of kids possesses a false sense of its own happiness and talent from years of empty praise and trophies for coming in last.
And a new book about raising girls shares lessons from girls' schools about how to guide them through life so they aspire to be like Hilary (Clinton) not Hilton (Paris). Of course, as this article about white boys makes clear, there is growing cause for concern about the diminished expectations for white boys, many of whom are failing at alarming rates.
Walter Williams, in a weekend interview for the Wall Street Journal, suggests that it was the expectations of others, in particular white people, that posed the greatest threat to his own success growing up.
Everyone seems to be casting around lately for a set of rules, a guide, a Truth about how to be happy, how to be successful, how to raise children to be the equivalent in life of what theater people call "triple threats" (i.e., can sing, dance, and act). Add to these different meditations---all of which seem to focus on race, culture, or ethnicity---David Brooks's latest piece in the New Yorker. In this excellent article, which no doubt derives from his next book, he talks about happiness and success in relation to what science, particularly neuroscience, tells us about how we should live our own lives or raise our children to live theirs. David Brooks, by the way, thinks Amy Chua is a "wimp."
What do I think? I think Brooks and the cognitive scientists he mentions are right to point out those unconscious processes that override the efforts we, as parents and teachers, often think make such a difference. Yet I'm not ready to go all in as Steven Pinker seems to say we should in his TED Talk about the "blank slate."
At some point, we must each, at some point in our lives, accept, as Cassius says to Brutus in Julius Caesar, that the fault "is not in our stars, but in ourselves." Dealt the brain we are, born into the family we are, into the era and culture we can only claim as our own, we must make our own way forward, becoming as Hesse's Siddhartha says, our own teachers, taking from those we meet along the way what words, what wisdom will help us make sense of the world and find our place and purpose in that world.