The Problem with "Happy"

TITLE: Satori in Paris, by Irene Suchocki–“Satori” refers to a flash of sudden awareness.

In the short time that I have been a mom, I have read a few books/magazines/Web pages in which mothers explain what they most want for their children. The consensus is generally the same.

Moms want their kids to be happy.

You can see it in the commercials. You can watch it at the soccer games. You can hear it in the stores.

At first glance, I’ve found many of these mothers to be noble in their mission. That they would be accepting of their children regardless of whether they became Harvard grads or starving artists is impressive. It’s certainly a world away from parents of previous generations who determined that their children would be lawyers or doctors or disowned.

But after careful thought, it is my persuasion that “happiness” is as incorrect a destination on the map of life as “rich” or “successful” or “impressive.” Happiness, while it doesn’t have the same undergrad prequisites that accompany a law degree, comes with its own set of challenges.

What if what makes me happy today doesn’t make me happy tomorrow? What if what makes me happy isn’t moral or Biblical? What if I can’t figure out what makes me happy? What if what makes me happy hurts other people?

“Happy” sounds good, but “happy” is as reliable a roadmap as a broken compass in a raging sea.

Do I want my child to be happy? Sure I do. That I–at this fleeting stage in my son’s life–can make his day with a balloon or a trip to the park is refreshing. I’m certainly not captain of the anti-happies. But more than happiness, I want my son to be content.

Here is the verse we are learning right now.

“But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (I Timothy 6:8 ESV).

If I can influence my son to choose contentment over happiness, I have given him a greater gift than any elaborate birthday party or shiny new toy or expensive college degree. Contentment means that he will accept with open arms whatever God brings into his life–whether he’s a Harvard grad or a starving artist. It means–even as his tastes change or his mood fluctuates or his circumstances shift–he can find peace in the promises of God.

And if, as a by-product of that obedience, my son will be happy, it will be to me a bonus.


  1. Anonymous says:

    Well stated. My sister wants to write a book on this very topic!

  2. Oh I am so glad you shared this! I just came across some writing recently that left the impression we should all want our children "happy." Thank you for expressing the deeper desire: contentment. And I would add joy, peace, hope (the living hope of 1 Peter), and the rest of the fruit of the Spirit. :-)

  3. Yes! You are exactly right.

Speak Your Mind