Finding happiness in five easy lessons
November 1, 2012
By Ina Hughs
Some 30 years ago, Robert Fulghum made a name for himself by saying everything he really needed to know he learned in kindergarten:
Share everything. Play Fair. Don’t hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody. Cookies and a nap after lunch.
Unfortunately, those inclinations and habits too often get rooted out of us by the time we’re on our own in the real world.
The current issue of Psychology Today seeks to add scientific validity to this kind of simplified road map to happiness in an article they push as “Life Lessons: 5 Truths People Learn Too Late.”
All the artwork with the article features babies and toddlers who haven’t even been to kindergarten to learn what Fulghum learned, but who just the same come into the world gung-ho ready for happiness, eager to explore ways of being. The article says the most important lessons in life are:
Lesson No. 1: The role of radical acceptance, which, translated into lay terms, means accepting people as they are, appreciating their strengths, making peace with their foibles, and if you try to “fix” anybody, make it yourself.Lesson No. 2: The beauty of benign neglect, which psychologists who study such things explain by telling us it is more harmful to over-parent than to under-parent. The trend among many young parents today is to run interference for their children, to co-pilot their way through life.
Lesson No. 3: Opposites don’t forever attract, which the article fleshes out by saying relationships last longer and go deeper when your mate’s background and values echo your own.
Lesson No. 4: Social networking matters, because, as the article puts it rather graphically, “low levels of social interaction have the same effects as smoking 15 cigarettes a day — and worse effects than being obese or not exercising.”
Lesson No. 5: Lust diminishes, but love remains. Well, duh. But try telling that to a swooning teenager.
People have always looked for those quick-fix slogans, the cross-stitched proverb, bumper-sticker zingers that define happiness or the world as it should be. Card bins in the drugstore are full of calligraphy summing up every moment, from birth until death.
We tear out and put on our fridge and under the glass on our desktops bits and pieces of wisdom and advice shrunk into a short, crisp litany. The two I have on mine at the moment are: “Take a deep breath. You’re home.” and “My life was half over before I realized it was a do-it-yourself project.”
It’s nice to think one article in a magazine can give us the keys to happiness, even better if they can dumb it down to just five. Hal Urban, in his book, “Life’s Greatest Lessons,” had a hard time keeping it at 20. He says that happy people cultivate character above all other goals because high test scores, big bank accounts and lots of toys are fleeting. Bonnie Ware, who wrote a book naming the five things dying people regret most about their lives, says taking risks should trump logic if you really want to pursue your dreams. Rigina Brett, in her book, “Be the Miracle,” has 50 lessons for reaching happiness, and one important one is to avoid assuming your own wishes, viewpoints, dreams and needs are, or should be, the same as everybody else’s.
But none of these, not even the Psychology Today article, includes one of Robert Fulghum’s best lessons from kindergarten: “Think what a better world it would be if all — the whole world — had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap.”