Lance Scranton: Happiness: Getting strictly a byproduct of giving

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Lance Scranton

Many students — and some teachers — are counting down the days until the end of the school year.

A countdown suggests that what’s coming next will be something that is more enjoyable or happier as we escape from institutional learning and rediscover a taste of liberty.

At our house, the kids don’t get off so easily as we resist the urge for unfettered summer freedom.

Summer reading is mandatory and activities for the sake of keeping our sons busy is regarded as a failure on our part to effectively parent.

One of the reasons we have attempted to maintain some semblance of consistent education is that we both come from generations whose lives were improved greatly by education and being inquisitive.

It seems as though “escaping” from school for the summer will lead to kids — and some teachers — being happier because the daily grind of educating children comes to a halt for three months.

Our Founding Fathers thought happiness important enough to make the pursuit of it a part of the Declaration of Independence.

Happiness is a powerful indicator of how we as a nation are doing. Our federal government sometimes gauges the nation's happiness by measuring Gross Domestic Product because productivity is generally an indicator of happiness.

But, too often some believe happiness is a right guaranteed by the Declaration, and if we aren’t happy then someone else must be at fault, right?

I’ve been struck over the past 10 years by the frequency of students who do not participate in extracurricular activities because it’s not fun or they don’t like it. Inherent in their reasoning is that if it doesn’t make them happy, why should they want to have anything to do with sacrificing their time and energy?

We can offer all types of challenges to help kids learn, but if the sine qua non is a feeling of happiness, then neither our Commitment to Excellence or a Booster Club will make any difference. We need kids to know that happiness is something they must seek and earn.

Young people aren’t the only ones with this tendency. Some adults struggle to see the value in being part of something if it doesn’t immediately make them feel happy.

But, if happiness becomes an entitlement in our culture, it will lead to some serious consequences. Pursuing happiness and being entitled to it are two very different ideas.

So, what does it take to be happy?

Winning teams, advanced test scores, sidewalks on every street, more shopping options, clean streets?

Yes, all those things will make us happy temporarily, but happiness means more than just a good feeling we have from an outside stimulus.

Happy people (those with a high measure of subjective well-being), the University of California, Berkley found, have three critical attributes: A sense of gratefulness for what is good in their lives, investing time in their families, and using every opportunity to help others.

Wow.

It appears that “getting” happiness is directly related to what we “give.”

Interesting.

Lance Scranton is a Moffat County High School teacher and coach. He can be reached at lance.scranton@moffatsd.org.

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