Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Too Much Excitement?

Dennis Prager has a must-read article over on entitled "Excitement Deprives Children of Happiness." If you've never heard of Dennis Prager, he is a conservative Jew who hosts a radio program on the Salem Radio Network. Every Friday he has what he calls "The Happiness Hour," when he focuses specifically on how people can be happy - and it's not what you think. He means REAL happiness, not the artificial kind caused by indulging our selfishness, so he spends this hour talking about how giving and sharing and focusing on others rather than yourself will make you happy.

In this article, Dennis talks to parents about how to help their children be happy people. His basic premise is found in the first two paragraphs:
If you want your children to be happy adults and even happy children -- and what parent does not? -- minimize the excitement in their lives. The more excitement, the less happy they are likely to be.

In both adults and children, one can either pursue excitement or pursue happiness, but one cannot do both. If you pursue excitement, you will not attain happiness. If you pursue happiness, you will still experience some moments of excitement, but you will attain happiness only if happiness, not excitement, is your goal.

He goes on to discuss how our children become so surrounded by excitement that they become jaded, so when something exciting isn't happening, they are bored. Then he offers this prescription:
The solutions are as simple to offer as they may be difficult to enforce. Limit the amount of excitement in your children's lives: the amount of video games, the amount of non-serious television, the amount of music whose only aim is to excite. If they are bored, they will have to remedy that boredom by playing with friends, finding a hobby, talking to a family member, walking the dog, doing chores, reading a book or magazine, learning a musical instrument or foreign language, memorizing state capitals, writing a story or just their thoughts, exercising or playing a sport, or just thinking.

The younger the age from which children are deprived of superficial excitement, the longer they will remain innocent -- i.e., not jaded -- and capable of real happiness. For as long as they live under your roof, and therefore (hopefully) under your control, you can implement excitement detox. If you do, they may hate you now, but they will thank you later, which is far superior to liking you now and hating you later. And in parenting, that is often the choice we must make.

As a homeschooling parent, I think this is tremendously valuable advice. I love the suggestions he makes about ways to help kids remedy their boredom. And I find my homeschooled kids, having more free time than the average child, end up doing many of these kinds of things. My older daughter (now 11), for example, spent a significant part of last year copying the Declaration of Independence onto parchment-type paper with a calligraphy pen; she has also taught herself to play the piano reasonably well, and has learned to amuse younger children easily. My younger, only 7, is still working on what she can do, but she likes to be alone and creates elaborate story lines for her Polly Pockets and Littlest Pet Shop animals.

This has been an interesting summer for us. I have rarely heard the complaint, "I'm bored," though we watch a movie less than once a day (and no TV). This afternoon we have a gymnastics class going on out on the back lawn for my two girls and two friends from the neighborhood (led, of course, by my natural-leader 11-year-old!). My girls are busy, and you know what? In spite of the lack of excitement sitting at home, they are happy. They create their own excitement by exercising their imaginations and their creativity - and that's a far better excitement than the cheap thrills they'd get from artificial excitement.

I appreciate Dennis' article. Even as a homeschooler, it's so easy to fall for the current idea that kids need excitement all the time - the TV, the video games, the zoo, the amusement park, the beach, the mall - and miss what will lead them to really be happy. Take a few minutes to read his whole article; it may well change the way you are parenting your children, and will certainly encourage you to consider the impact of excitement on their ultimate happiness.

Oh, and one more thing - maybe we ought to consider the impact of excitement on our own ultimate happiness. Can it be possible that too much excitement limits adult happiness as well?

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