In her article “How to Land Your Kid in Therapy” Lori Gottlieb writes about a patient named Ruby that, by all appearances, has a happy life. But she isn’t. She resolves to accomplish more goals and fulfill more desires but…
At one point during her journey, Rubin admits that she still struggles, despite the charts and resolutions and yearlong effort put into being happy. “In some ways,” she writes, “I’d made myself less happy.” Then she adds, citing one of her so-called Secrets of Adulthood, “Happiness doesn’t always make you feel happy.”
Modern social science backs her up on this. “Happiness as a byproduct of living your life is a great thing,” Barry Schwartz, a professor of social theory at Swarthmore College, told me. “But happiness as a goal is a recipe for disaster.” It’s precisely this goal, though, that many modern parents focus on obsessively—only to see it backfire. Observing this phenomenon, my colleagues and I began to wonder: Could it be that by protecting our kids from unhappiness as children, we’re depriving them of happiness as adults?
To be sure there are some finer distinctions that need to be made between happiness and pleasure, but it seems modern science is backing up what ancient philosophy took note of long ago.