Happiness: The Great Ambition

Steve Roberts color photo: Elizabeth Crissy
My niece Elizabeth, a high school senior applying to colleges, represents the very best in humankind because, when asked on the admissions form what idea challenges her most, answers, “How to be happy.”   At least that’s what her heart says.

Sadly, Liz finds all too little support for her aspiration among those whose well-intentioned advice is driven by the fear of what some college admissions counselor might think of her response. Being happy, they make clear, hardly seems daunting when you’re competing with kids who are all fired up to tackle any of the monumental social issues of the our day. Surely saving the planet from being cooked in its own carbon dioxide is a tad tougher problem than being happy, wouldn’t you say?

I, of course, say no.

I know nothing more difficult than being happy, nor worthwhile. Not the happy of material acquisition or worldly achievement, but rather the happy synonymous with a peaceful heart. The happy that comes from growing our ability to manage fear, learn from our experience, gain ever-deeper understanding of what is essential, and align commitments with action––which, curiously enough, are precisely the skills required to save the world.

More importantly perhaps, they are skills decidedly under-developed within the human family, perhaps the biggest contributor to the profound harm we inflict on one another and the planet at large. Yet where is the cultivation of these capabilities in the curriculum of any school? Right up there with intercollegiate meditation and underwater debate.

Which is why I participate in no social movement except one: waking up––becoming ever more aware of the choices we’re making, why we’re making them, and the impact of those choices on ourselves and others.

Sweet Liz is no slouch when it comes to traditional forms of success, even acclaim. She’s got a resume reputable schools cherish. She’s honorable, takes risks, works hard, doesn’t quit, dreams big and has many strong role models right in her own household. What she wonders is how it all translates into being happy.

And she’s eighteen.

I want the future of the world in her hands.

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"I honor that we are killing the earth for the same reason I consider being an alcoholic a privilege: it is a doorway to the profound self-understanding required to make truly healthy choices."

The Essay: Honoring the Killing of the Earth