Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The wrong question?

When we were up in Michigan last week, there was a news magazine lying around at which I happened to glance. One of the articles was titled, "Do children make you happy?" The conclusion of the author, after looking at many studies that were conducted asking people, both with and without children, to rate their happiness, was that, no, indeed children do not make people happier than those without. I've been thinking about this, and I've decided that everyone is asking the wrong question. Happiness is such a fleeting thing and incredibly dependent on circumstance. Do my children make me happy when they are whining, or throwing up in the middle of the night, or waiting too long to get to the bathroom? No, I can honestly say that when any of them behaves poorly or when I must clean up bodily fluids, I am not happy. Sometimes I am about as far from happy as a person can get. I'm also not happy when one of my children is sick, or injured, or sad. How can I be happy when someone I love is hurting? This is not to say I am never happy, or more accurately, never happy because of my children. This would be untrue as well. But if we are just measuring happiness, that sun-is-shining-the-birds-are-singing-all-is-right-with-the-world feeling, and I am not happy about the above mentioned items, and you multiply those things by 7, by rights it would seem that not only should I never be happy, but I should be walking around with a huge cloud hanging over my head.

There is no cloud, and I don't think I'm an unusually sad and dour person. And why is that? It's because the question the researchers should have been asking goes more like this: Does having children make you more joyful, or fulfilled, or blessed, or any of those other words that have more to do with internal states rather than what's going on outside. And the answer to all would be a resounding, Yes! Because I can be joyful, if I choose, when I'm cleaning up bodily fluids, because while it may not be fun, I have a child after whom I need to clean up. I have someone to whom I can show love, both my love and a small example of God's love. I can be joyful because God gave this precious being into my care.

Happiness is fleeting and beyond my control. Happiness is not a choice that one makes; it is something that happens to one. Happiness is an emotional response to circumstances. And happiness is not the goal. Joy, on the other hand, is a state in which I can choose to live. Joy is not erased or destroyed by pain or suffering or tears. And ultimately, joy can only come from being connected to the true joy-giver, Jesus Christ. Because, it is only through Him that we know there is way more to life than just what's here on earth. This knowledge is what can enable us to choose joy when life isn't going like we think it should. Or as Anne Shirley would say, there is so much more 'scope for imagination' if we just look past our immediate circumstances and focus on our eternal circumstances. (Can you tell I'm reading Anne of Green Gables to A and P?)


marianne said...

Forty six years; no child, interesting job, friends, boyfriend, a lot of education = a nice little life.

Last four years after adopting my child = my nice little life has gone super nova.

I don't know about other people but my child has made me happy, joyful, what ever you want to call it. My pervious life was a shadow compared to having my little girl now.

It is like a trip to the beach in January and a trip to the beach in August. The beach is nice both times but there is no comparison.

Elaine said...

I so agree with your post. They were asking the wrong question. You hit the nail on the head with the rest of it.

LawMommy said...

First of all, THANK YOU FOR QUOTING ANNE SHIRLEY. I love Anne of Green Gables. And all the sequels.

Moving on, you hit the nail on the head right here: "Joy, on the other hand, is a state in which I can choose to live."

(Now, I'm not going to say this applies to everyone, because, if one is starving to death in the Sudan or dying of AIDS in Lesotho, I'm not sure that joy is a state one could choose under such dire circumstances.) But, I think, generally, considering the relatively charmed life of the average American family, joy is a state we can choose.

I don't know that it was a bad question to be asking, considering that I encounter people who are so desperate to have a child that they lose focus on their ability to find joy in their life without a child in it. I think some people are looking for happiness to be handed to them in the form of a child, and it's not going to happen that way...

Jena said...

you know- I only come to your blog when I want/need to be challenged and renewed and this visit did not disapoint. Seriously, I often think,"I should go check Ordinary Time" and then I think, "no she will be speaking truth or some such other bother and I'd really rather just wallow today."
So here's to not wallowing, in fact here's to joy.

thecurryseven said...

Wow, Jena, what a compliment! Thank you. But, what pressure to be challenging and renewing :-)


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