Much as I dislike admitting this, I occasionally skim The New Yorker online. It has interesting articles sometimes and is at least well-written (usually). I tend to disagree with much of what I read there. But while reading this I found a quote that reflected where my thoughts have been lately.
“[A neuroscientist said] ‘I’ve come to think that flourishing consists of putting yourself in situations in which you lose self-consciousness and become fused with other people, experiences, or tasks. It happens sometimes when you are lost in a hard challenge, or when an artist or a craftsman becomes one with the brush or the tool. It happens sometimes while you’re playing sports, or listening to music or lost in a story, or to some people when they feel enveloped by God’s love. And it happens most when we connect with other people. I’ve come to think that happiness isn’t really produced by conscious accomplishments. Happiness is a measure of how thickly the unconscious parts of our minds are intertwined with other people and with activities. Happiness is determined by how much information and affection flows through us covertly every day and year.’
As the scientist went on to talk about the rush he got from riding his motorcycle in the mountains, Harold was gripped by the thought that, during his lifetime, the competition to succeed—to get into the right schools and land the right jobs—had grown stiffer. Society had responded by becoming more and more focused. Yet somehow the things that didn’t lead to happiness and flourishing had been emphasized at the expense of the things that did. The gifts he was most grateful for had been passed along to him by teachers and parents inadvertently, whereas his official education was mostly forgotten or useless.”
I don’t exactly know what I think about the author’s notion of happiness being mainly found in “other people and activities”. I do like what the last paragraph has to say, though, about the best things being those he learned from the good people in his life, not the stuff shoved into his head at school. This is so true. Thinking back to the most important things I learned growing up, 99% of them were life lessons, taught by those who cared enough for me to share their time, energy, and words.
When children are caught up in a great learning experience, you can tell. Their eyes are wide, their attention is focused. There is a look of expectancy which changes to awe as the light of understanding begins to dawn. It is a miracle moment.
Sadly, in the world we live in, hard lessons are often learned from painful, difficult experiences. But the best instruction children gain is in the joys of life and the love of the people around them, which allow them to truly thrive.