Happiness, dissatisfied.

Over the years I’ve learned about talking to children. They hear none of the intentionality or history behind an explanation. They hear only the words. They assign meanings from their own close, physical experience. They respond.

So I confuse Evan when I say he should never be satisfied, but I hope he will always be happy.

Evan has a lot of information about being, and it’s been collected for him and arranged and assigned to groups. He knows the difference between hippies and Christians and businessmen. He’s been attracted to Buddhism and he likes the idea of simply being himself as complete fulfillment.

My history is more complex. I bear genuine scars. Raising children, I’ve had to look thoughtfully at both what I think life is, and what I think life offers. I’ve come up with this: I’m an actively creative creature which must struggle – struggle hard – to invent and construct objects and events in which I can see myself. Doing so gives me deep comfort, and goes far toward resolving the question of who I am. I think of the results of such activities as ‘accomplishments.’ I personally value them. Encouraging them is what I offer my children.

At once, I agree, it is true: simple existence without motive or expectation is complete living. Mindful awareness and acceptance are the foundations of personal peace. Commitment to objectives is always a form of bondage. So when Evan becomes angry – and he becomes very angry – that I claim hope for his happiness while driving him to accomplishment, I say this:

‘Only when you decide who you are – and only you can decide this – can you know how to serve the needs you will discover within yourself. You are thirteen. You don’t know who you are yet. You are in a tough world, surrounded by young people like yourself. The actual, circumscribed lives of each of you, when done, will have been of different sizes. You are growing now, with no idea of how large you might become. There are hard limits on everyone, more so on others than on you. Over the coming years, one by one, all of you will be confined within insuperable boundaries. As that occurs, philosophies and religions of acceptance will be offered as comforts against sensations of failure and  defeat. If you pursue them out of momentary attraction; if you suspend your purposeful, hard, effort so you can relax by the stream to contemplate your navel, you may later discover yourself confined in a smaller box. If your spirit is clear, and you are right about your whole life at the age of thirteen, then truly – God bless you. But if you’re not entirely, divinely, certain – then grow large. Grow large.’

Despite my carefully precise phrasing and perfect selection of words, Evan doesn’t think this is very clear. He says, ‘you don’t want me to be happy at all! You tell me never to be satisfied with anything. I don’t have to want to accomplish some great piece of music to make a great piece of music. I’m doing my music because doing good music is what I do, and it’s really good.’

To which I observe, ‘but not so! Continually, I ask for recordings of your songs and you say, ‘Dad, you don’t understand. They aren’t ready yet. I have to change this first.’ So tell me, why aren’t they ready yet?’

‘Well, because I want to make them better.’


”Well, they’re not ready yet.’

‘And this I call dissatisfaction. I think it’s a wonderful thing. It’s a personal desire to do better. I don’t think, in fact, you can be happy without it. What you call ‘wanting to make them better’ I call ‘being dissatisfied.’ I feel the opposite of wanting your unhappiness. I’m hoping you have a rare and deeply gratifying life.’

And Evan says, ‘Oh. I get that.’


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