Ex­cite­ment de­prives chil­dren of hap­pi­ness

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - DEN­NIS PRAGER

If you want your chil­dren to be happy adults and even happy chil­dren — and what par­ent does not? — min­i­mize the ex­cite­ment in their lives. The more ex­cite­ment, the less happy they are likely to be.

In both adults and chil­dren, one can ei­ther pur­sue ex­cite­ment or pur­sue hap­pi­ness, but one can­not do both. If you pur­sue ex­cite­ment, you will not at­tain hap­pi­ness. If you pur­sue hap­pi­ness, you will still ex­pe­ri­ence some mo­ments of ex­cite­ment, but you will at­tain hap­pi­ness only if hap­pi­ness, not ex­cite­ment, is your goal.

When we give our child a present, he ex­pe­ri­ences ex­cite­ment, and we are de­lighted when we see how happy he is. When done oc­ca­sion­ally — a hol­i­day, a birth­day — this is per­fectly fine and even ben­e­fi­cial. Chil­dren should have those spe­cial mo­ments and re­mem­ber for­ever that won­der­ful Christ­mas, Chanukah or birth­day present.

But be­cause we par­ents so de­light in the ex­cite­ment we see in our chil­dren at those mo­ments — be­cause they seem so happy then — we can eas­ily fall into the trap of pro­vid­ing more and more ex­cit­ing things to keep them seem­ingly happy at just about ev­ery mo­ment. And they in turn come to rely on get­ting ex­cited to keep them happy and to iden­tify ex­cite­ment with hap­pi­ness.

But ex­cite­ment is not hap­pi­ness. In fact, it is the ul­ti­mate drug.

It is ex­cite­ment that peo­ple seek when en­gag­ing in any de­struc­tive ad­dic­tive be­hav­iors. Ex­cite­ment is a ma­jor part of what peo­ple seek in do­ing drugs, in hav­ing sex with mul­ti­ple part­ners, in gam­bling (from slot ma­chines to risky stock pur­chases) or in hav­ing an ex­tra­mar­i­tal af­fair. And even for many crim­i­nals, ex­cite­ment is a ma­jor lure of crim­i­nal be­hav­ior.

It is ar­gued that we are pro­grammed to de­sire ex­cite­ment. But we are also pro­grammed to be lazy, to be ir­re­spon­si­ble and to eat un­healthy foods. And just as th­ese other nat­u­ral in­stincts do not lead us to hap­pi­ness, nei­ther does ex­cite­ment.

To­day's young peo­ple have the abil­ity to ex­pe­ri­ence ex­cite­ment more than any gen­er­a­tion in his­tory. Out­side of school, ex­cite­ment is avail­able al­most 24/7. MTV is ex­cit­ing (MTV has done far more dam­age to this gen­er­a­tion than has the to­bacco in­dus­try); video games are ex­cit­ing; the nearly all-per­va­sive sex­ual stim­uli are ex­cit­ing; MyS­pace (largely a hu­man cesspool) is ex­cit­ing; get­ting tat­tooed is ex­cit­ing; pierc­ings are ex­cit­ing; many pic­tures and videos on the In­ter­net are ex­cit­ing. The list of ex­cit­ing things many chil­dren ex­pe­ri­ence is as long as there are hours in the day.

But all this ex­cite­ment is ac­tu­ally in­hibit­ing our chil­dren's abil­ity to en­joy life and there­fore be happy. All this ex­cite­ment ren­ders young peo­ple jaded, not happy. To cite a sim­ple ex­am­ple, many chil­dren to­day would refuse to watch a black and white film — "It's bor­ing," they say. They would even refuse to watch many of the great­est color films if they lacked the amount of ex­cite­ment — usu­ally mean­ing vi­o­lence but also fre­quently mean­ing foul lan­guage and sex­ual con­tent -that they are now so used to see­ing in films. Plot de­vel­op­ment is "bor- ing"; blow­ing up peo­ple and build­ings is ex­cit­ing.

That is why the fre­quent com­plaint of "I'm bored" is of­ten a sign of a jaded child, i.e., a child ad­dicted to ex­cite­ment and there­fore in­ca­pable of en­joy­ing life when not be­ing ex­cited.

All this ex­cite­ment in their lives bodes poorly for the fu­ture hap­pi­ness of mil­lions of Amer­i­can chil­dren. Real life, let alone daily life, will seem so bor­ing to them that they will not be able to en­joy it. And more than a few of them will opt for lives of con­stant ex­cite­ment, of­ten in ways de­struc­tive to them­selves and oth­ers.

The so­lu­tions are as sim­ple to of­fer as they may be dif­fi­cult to en­force. Limit the amount of ex­cite­ment in your chil­dren's lives: the amount of video games, the amount of non-se­ri­ous television, the amount of mu­sic whose only aim is to ex­cite. If they are bored, they will have to rem­edy that bore­dom by play­ing with friends, find­ing a hobby, talk­ing to a fam­ily mem­ber, walk­ing the dog, do­ing chores, read­ing a book or mag­a­zine, learn­ing a mu­si­cal in­stru­ment or for­eign lan­guage, mem­o­riz­ing state cap­i­tals, writ­ing a story or just their thoughts, ex­er­cis­ing or play­ing a sport, or just think­ing.

The younger the age from which chil­dren are de­prived of su­per­fi­cial ex­cite­ment, the longer they will re­main in­no­cent — i.e., not jaded — and ca­pa­ble of real hap­pi­ness. For as long as they live un­der your roof, and there­fore (hope­fully) un­der your con­trol, you can im­ple­ment ex­cite­ment detox. If you do, they may hate you now, but they will thank you later, which is far su­pe­rior to lik­ing you now and hat­ing you later. And in par­ent­ing, that is of­ten the choice we must make.

Den­nis Prager is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

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