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Setting Goals as a Parent: Happiness vs. Contentment

HappinessvcontentmentI spend a lot of time on this site talking about teaching kids about money- for the benefits it will get them later in life.  I also talk a lot about helping kids to set goals with their money.  I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what goals we, as parents, have for our kids – probably because I haven’t done the work needed to clearly name those goals myself.

One common goal that I hear a lot of parents state is that they “want their kids to be happy.”  This is a double-edged sword; kids are really happy when you just take care of all of their needs and give them unlimited freedom, with no responsibility.  I’ve always thought that my goal was to “raise kids who could be happy adults.”  I now have doubts on that, after reading an excellent post by Leo Babauta today:

A lot of people search for ways to find happiness, but I’ve found the idea of contentment to be more important than happiness.

Why contentment over happiness? A couple of important reasons:

  1. Happiness can go up or down each day (or moment), but contentment is something more stable.
  2. We tend to seek to increase happiness by adding things (food, excitement, a warm bath, time with a loved one) but contentment is a skill that allows you to subtract things and still be content.
  3. Contentment can actually be a good place to start as you make changes (changes and contentment might seem paradoxical to some, but hear me out).

What is contentment? For me, it’s really about being happy with who you are. Which I wasn’t for many years, and I think most people are not.

(You owe it to yourself to read Leo’s whole post, it’s really that good.  )

What Leo is saying here is that contentment should be our higher goal, and that happiness naturally springs from that.  Not every child can be happy with the clothes, activities, or school their family can afford, but every child can be brought up content in knowing that they have enough to get through today, a goal for tomorrow, and a positive plan to get from here to there.

To take it a step further; I can imagine most adults’ financial problems arose out of their poor decisions in pursuit of happiness today, at the expense of long-term contentment.  I’m very close to a state of contentment in my life right now.  There are a lot of things I know I’ll never have, and never do, but I’m OK with that.  I have an amazing family, and we’ll continue to have fantastic experiences together enjoying whatever resources we’re blessed with today.  I hope that this rubs off on them, and that they can start their adult lives from a place of contentment, rather than a position of want.  They’ll be much happier if they do.

 

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  • Kids certainly follow our example in that regard. If I want something that is pricey, I can budget and save with a sense of purpose or I can lament repeatedly how I don’t have the one thing that will make me happy. If I am always crying over what I don’t have instead of being grateful for what I do have, my children will come to understand that material possessions make us happy and that we can never get enough to be satisfied.

    • On that note, sometimes the best part about making a “big” purchase is all of the planning, work, and saving that went before the actual purchase. There’s actually less happiness, short term and long, if it’s simply given to us. We hold dearest those things that we worked hardest to attain.

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