“Do not ask your children to strive for extraordinary lives. Such striving may seem admirable, but it is the way of foolishness. Help them instead to find the wonder and the marvel of an ordinary life. Show them the joy of tasting tomatoes, apples and pears. Show them how to cry when pets and people die. Show them the infinite pleasure in the touch of a hand. And make the ordinary come alive for them. The extraordinary will take care of itself.”
– William Martin.
We were sitting on the lounge room floor shelling broad beans, my son and I.
He was engrossed, tongue hanging out the corner of his mouth as he manoeuvred each bean from its pod. We talked about how some were big and some were small – how the smaller ones were sweeter.
But mostly we just shelled beans, my three-year-old and I.
They were probably the most peace-filled moments of the day. I noticed things; like the downy lining of each broad bean pod and that whoever designed these things sure wanted them to survive intact; my boy’s fingers scrambling to find each bean, like a green nugget of treasure; the subtle ‘pop’ as the pod was opened and the ‘ping’ as each harvested bean hit the side of the bowl.
It was good.
As the William Martin quote above suggests, it’s the “infinite pleasure” in the ordinary that will bring the most joy into our lives.
Mission Australia released the results of its 13th annual youth survey last week. The paper revealed that more than 86 per cent of young people considered career success and financial independence as extremely or very important, compared with having your own family (67.5 per cent) and feeling part of your community (41 per cent).
Mission Australia CEO Catherine Yeomans said we should be asking what this means for society when young people’s aspirations are so skewed.
“We know that strong community networks and positive family relationships are vital to the health of our nation and will in fact give young people a far greater chance of a happy, healthy and fulfilling future,” she said.
“So we need to build that sense of community in young Australians and ensure their dreams encompass social wellbeing, not just financial wellbeing.”
How do you tell a teenager that they won’t find happiness in a prestigious title and a six-figure pay packet? That they’re more likely to find it by volunteering at a drop-in centre, having a cuppa with a neighbour or shelling broad beans with a toddler?
There have been a handful of studies around lottery wins that have found, surprise-surprise, that wealth does not bring happiness. One (rather old but still oft-quoted, 1978) study famously found that happiness levels of lottery winners spiked momentarily before returning to ‘normal’. In other words, people have a set level of happiness that is largely unaltered by life-changing events.
It’s a bit depressing, really.
Lucky I don’t believe it – or rather, I don’t believe that happiness is the right measure of a good life. Happiness is subjective, can never be guaranteed and doesn’t necessarily have favourable results. Nope, not even Christians can expect to be happy (in the worldly sense).
Hope infuses the human soul with ability. Jesus brought the hope of a meaningful existence that does not end with our last breath, rendering all concerns here a blip on the eternity scale.
I hope young people are given the opportunity to realise that they are valued beyond their $-value, precious beyond their prestige and that their fulfillment is a matter of the soul.
Those ordinary moments – shelling broad beans with a toddler – are exceptional because all of creation is charged with the wonder of God.
First published in The Examiner Newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday December 8, 2014.