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Gerardo Castillo Ceballos, School of Education and Psychology of the University of Navarra
Educating children for a happy life
Today there is a social tendency to pursue happiness understood only as sensible pleasure and immediate satisfaction of what we desire. Aristotle said that happiness cannot be sought, since it is something that happens; it is something added to some of the activities in which we are engaged; it is a consequence and not something that is sought in itself. It is only achieved when it is not sought and pursued. "Happiness is like a butterfly; the more you chase it, the more it will elude you. But if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and gently perch on your shoulder" (Henry D. Thoreau).
Happiness is the joy or bliss that derives from having attained a certain good, because of the fullness or perfection staff that the latter entails. Joy is the inner resonance of having achieved a good goal, a perfection; therefore, happiness cannot be achieved directly. I suggest expressing it in a simpler and more operative way: "to happiness by perfection".
Seneca said that young people must be taught to live honestly, in accordance with virtue, because in virtue lies the highest good and the happiness of the human being.
The honest life proposed by Seneca is similar to the "good life" proposed by Socrates four centuries earlier. Socrates opted for the "good life", at the cost of sacrificing the "good life", to the point of dying to defend the truth without compromise. The good life is oriented to a "better life" (life with more moral quality); the good life is oriented, on the other hand, to a "better life" (more material well-being). Socrates preferred death to renouncing his convictions. He was an example of coherent life and a living model for his disciples: he taught what he lived.
For Aristotle, the person needs a security that is not provided by the excess of things; security is in the nomos, in the concord of free men who seek the "good life". Happiness is not in the ephemeral, but in the virtuous life; that is why he advised to live and act well(eudaimonia), which included leading an austere life.
J. Pieper maintains that the supreme happiness of man is found in contemplation. Contemplation is a knowing enkindled by love. Happy is he who contemplates the good that he loves and who is submission to that good. It is only the presence of the beloved that makes us happy. Therefore love is the indispensable budget of happiness.
For Ortega y Gasset "happiness is the life dedicated to occupations for which each man has a singular vocation". Happiness is produced when our "projected life", which is what we want to be, coincides with "our effective life".
Since happiness is the main goal of human life and since it is not easy to achieve, the fundamental goal of Education is to prepare for a happy life. The most suitable thing is not dissertations on happiness, but the example of parents who are happy. "Long is the way of precepts, but short and effective is the way of examples" (Seneca).
In the family, the natural environment of Education, is where, in principle, there are more possibilities to learn to be happy. This is so because the family is a group of people united by bonds of love who grow together. It is the place where a child can be more fully him/herself, feeling loved for what he/she is and not for what he/she is worth; also because in the family one learns to love from the experience of feeling loved.
The person is a being of intimacy. Intimacy is the space that each person needs to be with him/herself, to find him/herself, to possess him/herself and, as a consequence, to be open to happiness. That is why it is fundamental to help children to discover and cultivate their inner richness, for example their noblest feelings or their hidden talents; this "bringing out from within" is the task of the educator.
The path that leads to happiness can be taught with a familiar Education with characteristics such as the ones I mention below.
Parents who promote, by example, positive attitudes in the face of adversity; who teach how to deal with frustrations; who encourage autonomous behavior in their children at successive ages; who help each child to find out what he or she wants in life (without confusing it with what he or she desires or wants); who create a relationship of trust with their children that allows for the free expression of emotions and feelings; who create a home environment of optimism and joy.