Friday Two Cents: A Lesson In Happiness


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This week I experienced a moment when my university courses came into contact with my professional life as a teacher.  In the course we are reading a book called “Me to We: Finding Meaning in a Material World” where the two authors share their insights into moments from their life that helped them go onto the path of helping the less fortunate.

I was reading a chapter where they were discussing the Happiness in America.  That despite a high standard of living, money and comforts brought on my technology, peoples’ happiness levels have not moved since the 1950’s.  Maybe money cannot buy happiness.

Studies and polls done on the subject of happiness conducted around the world show that countries in the developing world show a higher happiness level than Americans.  It would appear they are not happy with what they have, they want more.  Even if people win the lottery after the initial celebration of winning, people begin to become complacent and want more to feel those emotions again.

My first thoughts were, “Yeah right.  People are not like that here in Canada”, unfortunately I experienced two grade 5 boys acting like many people described in the book.  They would appear to have a good life, parents with good jobs to give them what their parents never had, an education, peaceful surroundings and opportunities.  However, these two continue to want more.

Don’t get me wrong, I tried to see that they are just curious or hungry for knowledge, but I missed the mark.  These two went on strike and would not participate in activities because the ones the teachers where doing were boring.  Yet we asked the other children and they were fine with them.

We asked the two what was this all about and they said they were representing the other grade 5’s and wanted more.  So we told them to write down what they wanted and we would try to accommodate them.  Once I saw the lists I knew right away that these “demands” had nothing to do with the grade 5’s but what the two wanted.  I can say that because the demands where very specific to reflect the two’s interests and not the grade 5’s in general.

All I could think about was the words from the book about the people with a lot more than others, always wanting more.  I saw a real life example of the decadence and greed in our society reflected in these two adolescent boys.  All I could think about was how I had failed to teach them this important lesson about thinking of others not just themselves.

I know that this is not my responsibility alone, but I knew that I had to at least make some difference.  Therefore a couple of days after their demands they came to me with more demands.  I did something they did not expect, I said a flat-out, “NO.  I will not listen to your demands any more.  You have gone too far and you will not get anything else.”

They were taken aback by this and was about to continue but I cut them off and asked them a question.  I said, “I have been supplying at other schools with children who would beg to have the programs you have here, because they don’t have any.  They are content and happy with what they have. Why is it that you are not?  Isn’t there a word we have for people who constantly want more and more just because they want to?”  They didn’t answer and I saw in their eyes they knew the answer, but I told them it anyway. “Greed.  I think you should be grateful for what you have and be happy with what you’ve got. There are a lot of other children who will never have what you’ve got and they are happy.”

They walked away not saying a thing.  Hopefully, a lesson in being happy with what you have, was learnt that day.

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