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In a web-based Smart Girls survey, four out of five girls (average age 13) reported that their life goal was something like fame, money, or being happy. The remaining 20% said their life goal was to make a difference.

Opinions such as this are often formed from previous experience.

What kinds of experiences and input are shaping the dreams, goals, and values of the children in your life?

Think about how they might answer the question, “What is your main goal in life?”

Would they be in the majority or the minority? And what do you most want for the children in your life? What if you had to choose either happiness or meaning?

This is the first post in a series where I explore a spiritual approach to addressing this question with children.

Defining happiness and meaning

1129742_74408437 dictionaryA good place to start is by defining our terms. In a widely-reported survey summarized in Scientific American:

Respondents strongly correlated feeling happy with seeing life as easy, pleasant, and free from difficult or troubling events. Happiness was also correlated with being in good health and generally feeling well most of the time.

However, none of these things were correlated with a greater sense of meaning.

The survey’s findings suggest that pure happiness is about getting what we want in life—whether through people, money, or life circumstances.

Meaningfulness, in contrast, seems to have more to do with double-call-1209438-m teens on phonesgiving, effort, and sacrifice.  However, tasks which don’t make us happy can, over time, add up to a meaningful life. Even routine activities — talking on the phone, cooking, cleaning, meditating, emailing, praying, and balancing finances — appeared to bring more meaning to adults’ lives, but did not contribute to happiness in the moment.

Think about your own perspectives on this question.

  • How would you personally rate the relative importance of happiness or meaning?
  • How have you pursued them?
  • How successful has that pursuit been?
  • What are your hopes for the children in your life?
  • What do you most want for them? Happiness or meaning? What if you had to choose?

Next week: Preparing children to tap into their potential

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