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It's Our Turn: The happiness delusion

Raising children is an amazing experience. It certainly is not easy, it involves a lot of pain, sacrifice and hard work, but it is worth it.

When your children are young, it's hard to imagine loving them any more than you do. Yet as the days, months and years go by, you realize that you really do.

Because we love them so much, we are willing to do almost anything for them. We work hard to buy them all the things we didn't have when we were young. We try to protect them. We try to make them happy.

In fact, if you asked most parents, they would probably say that their two most important objectives for their children are that they are happy and successful.

There is a long list of things that we want our children to learn in order to live happy, successful lives. In addition to academic skills, we expect them to learn to be responsible, to work hard, to get along with people, to manage their money and to safely navigate through life.

There is one area, however, that often gets neglected. It's uncomfortable and unpleasant and no one wants to learn about it, and yet it is vital for our overall happiness in life. If we really want our children to be happy and successful, we need to teach them how to suffer.

I know, this goes against everything most parents stand for nowadays. "I just want my children to be happy," we say.

So what's the problem with that? The problem is we now have a whole generation of people who really don't know how to deal with suffering and pain. Because we tend to see suffering as unnatural and controllable, we get surprised and immobilized when it intrudes in our lives. I'm not sure if it is because we have so much, or because we can now do so much with technology, or maybe just because of the media's constant complaints about injustice and unfairness, but for some reason we have been brainwashed into believing that suffering should never happen - and that if it does, something is drastically wrong.

Of course, anyone who has lived for more than a few decades knows that living without suffering and pain is impossible. They've learned the hard truth that life's not fair, bad things happen, and you will suffer; the question is not if, but when.

Wanting our children to be happy is not wrong, but it shouldn't be our primary goal. We already have too many self-centered children (some in their 30s and 40s and up) whose lives revolve around their own happiness and pleasure. What we need are people who are willing to do what's necessary, even if it's unpleasant or painful.

The paradox is that in our quest to give our children everything and make them happy, we are actually depriving them of the chance to have a realistic view of life and to learn something valuable that would ultimately help them experience real happiness. Rather than telling them they can have anything they want, including a life free from suffering and pain, we need to prepare them for the inevitable bullies, accidents, disappointments, hard work, sickness, betrayals, lack of money, and even deaths, that are all part of life.

Although we can talk to our children about suffering ahead of time and warn them that it is inevitable, what really matters is how we deal with suffering ourselves. The example we set will determine how our children view pain and suffering - and how they will react to it.

Life can be an incredible adventure with moments of great happiness. However, if we don't prepare for the bad times as well, we may become bitter and depressed when they intrude into our delusion that life should be easy and that we should always get what we want.

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"It's Our Turn" is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.

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