26 April 2019

"We need to make sure we are helping our children shoot at the right target."

At the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, Matthew Emmons was preparing to take his 10th and final shot in the 50 meter rifle competition. He was leading and would easily win gold with even just a mediocre shot. For most watching the competition, Matthew taking the gold was a foregone conclusion.

As he pulled the trigger, the bullet hit dead center. He was the new Olympic gold champion. At least that is what he thought. He looked at his target again and at first was a little bit confused as he could not see the mark on the target anymore. All of sudden his stomach sank as he realized that he had shot at the wrong target. He ended up in 8th place.

If you were to ask people what their desire and hope is for their children, their answer is often “I just want them to be happy”. The same answer is given by most people when asked what they want from life. That answer, however, is much like Matthew and his ill-fated day at the Olympics. The problem is that if happiness is our ultimate goal we might think that we have hit the bullseye but in reality we are actually shooting at the wrong target.

The problem with making the pursuit of happiness your life’s goal is that ultimately happiness does not make you happy. Being happy is not a destination or something that is searched for, found, and then achieved. Happiness comes in moments and experiences and is something that is not sustainable indefinitely. This is because of something called the “hedonic treadmill”. What makes us happy today does not necessarily make us as happy tomorrow and maybe even less happy the following day. We all know what I am talking about as we have experienced this often in our lives. As a kid that present on Christmas morning creates incredible joy and happiness and yet within a few months you might not even know where it is and have not played with it for quite some time. How about that new car or house that makes us so happy and yet within a few months or years it becomes commonplace for us.

I saw a great illustration of this in the news just yesterday. Last Saturday an escaped Austrian prisoner turned himself in after living in Spain’s Canary Islands for 10 years. These islands are a sought after tourist destination for much of Europe. When asked why he turned himself in, he told the police he was tired of living in paradise.

We have been talking about the formula that society has created and many of us follow for our children that starts with academic success, leads to prestigious or top tier universities, so that they can have a great career, which will lead to a happy life. The problem is that the formula has us shooting at the wrong target so that even if we actually hit it, we still ultimately miss.

We need to make sure we are helping our children shoot at the right target. To do that we first need to talk about another wrong target which is out there. We will talk about that one next week.

Written by Karl Steinkamp

Karl Steinkamp is passionate about Dalat International School and training up young people. Karl was a student at Dalat and returned with a degree in education as a student teacher, high school principal, and now Head of School since 2006.
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