Ingredients of a Life Worth Living

Molleen Matsumura

Okay. We humanists agree that there is no karmic law, no Grand Plan, and no Grand Planner to make the world make sense for us. Instead of discovering "The Meaning of Life," we're faced with the job of creating meaningful lives for ourselves. We also agree that happiness is to be found here and now, not in some imaginary hereafter.

But, how do we prepare our kids to do the same for themselves? This question may seem even more challenging for those of us who have set aside the religious views of our parents (especially if they were dogmatic), or who are determined not to "brainwash" our kids. None of us is satisfied with automatic answers, and we know we can't wave a magic wand over our kids and order them to "be happy."

It helps to remember that anyone of parenting age—or, for that matter, grandparenting age—is still living an unfinished story, whose meaning changes with new experiences. And that's the key. We don't have to do the impossible and give our kids all the answers to life's questions. Instead, we can join them in the adventure of meaningful living and help them develop the emotional and intellectual skills that make for a full life.

Just as humanists recognize that there is no one true meaning of life, the same is true for definitions of happiness. There are different sources of happiness; for any one person, some types of happiness are more meaningful and more attainable than others. But we can draw upon accumulated human wisdom for ideas that will resonate with our own and our children's experiences.

Even a casual search through quotations

, , -hi There is not one biq cos-about happiness will reveal some common

. i i r- i • mic meaninq for all, there is themes. People define happiness as:

only the meaning we each give

Pleasure: "Then I commended mirth, to our life, an individual mean-

because a man hath no better thing inq, an individual plot, like an under the sun, than to eat, and to individual novel, a book for drink, and to be merry. . . ."1 each person.

Rewarding work: "The happiness that is _Anais Nin, novelist genuinely satisfying is accompanied by the fullest exercise of our faculties and the fullest realization of the world in which we live."2 "Happiness ... lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort."3 Love and connection: "There is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved."4

Altruism, or dedication to something larger than oneself: "The way to be happy is to try and make somebody else so."5 "Many people have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose."6

These same themes emerge from research in the field of positive psychology, which has developed a tremendous amount of information on what makes people feel that life is worthwhile.7 This chapter will include some core ideas you can apply right away, followed up by resources you can use to build on your own experiences. And, since there is more information than can be covered in one book, let alone one chapter, it will emphasize issues that particularly concern humanist parents.

One idea I will borrow from researchers is that it is useful to understand and cultivate many different components of a satisfying life.

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