The results are of course generalizations, and perhaps predictably, the most common reply from Chinese mothers was "honor" and from American mothers "happiness". I was struck, however, with the response of Italian mothers. They wished their children to be "good". This is something my grandmother Esther might have said, although I suspect she might have said "kind".
It's the preference for the active over the passive. You can be assessed "good" by what you do not do. You don't lie or cheat your customers or your spouse; you don't bully your classmates; you don't bad-mouth people. But to be judged "kind" requires action - the proverbial "random act". It implies a life of dedication, service, self-sacrifice. It means placing the needs and wants of others ahead of your own. It means living the golden rule. It means treating everyone you meet with respect. I believe this style of life is the road to inner happiness, so perhaps the Italian mother and the American mother are really expressing the same wish, albeit the Italian mothers' hope offers a "highway" to happiness.
Unfortunately, I fear many Americans equate happiness with pleasure. Pleasure is fleeting. Pleasure is a feeling. Happiness is a state of being. Happiness endures and despite the Constitution cannot be found by endless pursuit. (I must be careful here and not trespass on the realm of philosophers and theologians.) But, I believe true happiness is an inner quality and in its truest form, stems from an examined life and positive action in the lives of others. It's a hard road in today's society. Why live morally when the immoral seem to prosper? A little Socrates never hurts with a difficult topic: Socrates says that virtue (i.e. kindness/goodness) and happiness are inextricably linked.
There is a New Testament translation that renders the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) as "Happy* are they ..." rather than KJV "Blessed are they ...". When I first read that, I was uncomfortable. I thought it sounded trite. But on reflection, when I think of happiness as inner contentment and purpose and not glee, I find that "Happy are the pure of heart, for they shall see God" apt.
*The original Greek word for “Blessed” is "Makarios, which means "happy." The term beatitude comes from the Latin noun beātitūdō which means "happiness".
Copyright © 2017 Dave Hoplin