I grew up hearing stories about people in my grandparents’ generation who sacrificed a great deal so that their children could have “more” than they did – a better job, a college education, a bigger house, greater independence. And I noticed the same characteristics among many immigrant families of my acquaintance: people who worked long hours and lived frugally in cramped quarters so that their children could go to college and be prosperous doctors and lawyers and engineers.
All of this is very admirable, but it stands in contrast to something I heard recently.
While out of town a few weeks back, I happened upon a middle-aged gentleman who was working outdoors. He was employed as a facilities manager, and he had a cloak of peace about him that was almost otherworldly. We got to talking, and it turns out he was the father of ten children. Naturally we began talking about our children, their educations, and our hopes for them. Somewhere in the middle of our conversation he said this to me:
“I’ve come to realize that all I really want for my children is for them to be happy and to do good things.”
To be happy.
And to do good things.
Notably absent were the words “successful”, “prosperous”, “fulfilled”, “independent”, or “competitive”.
But what is authentic human happiness? What kinds of things are truly good? The answers are not complicated unless we make them so. Happiness is the product of a virtuous life, and achieving the end for which one was created. Likewise, a good act is that which pleases God and advances human society. In asking for more, we are settling for less.