Ennui and dissatisfaction have long been part of the human experience--perhaps more so now than ever.
More people are depressed. More people don't know "why [they're] here."
The existential angst only becomes worse when people have been groomed their whole lives to "get into a good college" or to "get a good job" and then, they can't do either (given the unbelievable competition for college spots and the insanely high tuition rates, or the dearth of jobs available after graduation--even the lack of decent-paying jobs).
Or, they manage to accomplish one or the other, but still, nothing feels satisfying, because they never bothered to figure out who they are, what they want to do, and how they can best contribute to human progress.
So why are we so depressed? Probably because we expect to be happy. We're constantly told that the point of life is happiness…but is it really? Is that why we're alive?
It would be nice to think so, but happiness is a vague term, and those who seem like they should be happy (the well-off, the safe people with comfortable lives) are often the least happy of all.
[Social media, of course, makes it worse, as everyone puts on the happiest face they can, most of the time, and we start to wonder why we aren't as seemingly happy.]
The bottom line is that we are competing rather than co-operating, and that drives us for a while, often into college or half-way through it, until we collapse in a heap, feeling empty and wondering about the point of all the effort, all the competition.
Many of us push our kids to succeed, but never explain what "success" really means. It's like being told to "sit here and wait for the present," but you never get a present; you're just waiting (for what, you don't know).
As a teacher, I see so many kids who are driven to be the best, driven to study for a certain career (one that means nothing, personally, to them, but one that looks good, like the traditional doctor or lawyer jobs).
What I'd like to see are people enjoying school and learning for the sake of learning. We should read books not to know what color tie Jim was wearing in chapter three, but rather, to know what the novel taught us about life, about human experience.
I don't believe much in either grades or homework, which probably makes me an idealist (and I went to Sarah Lawrence). Punishment, to me, is usually misguided and stupid, and counter-productive.
Does that make me a rebel, or someone who understands there is a better way?
I was compelled to write this after reading a very interesting essay about these larger goals, the point of all the pressure we put on our kids.
We need to ask ourselves if we as parents, or we as teachers and school administrators, are teaching the right lessons and asking the right questions.
If we truly want to help our kids, we need to help them to feel engaged, capable, and worthwhile. It's not all about the labels we wear; it's about how we feel in our skin.
The best goals to have, it seems to me, are the ones we can't actually teach but can only urge people to experience for themselves: confidence in our ability to manage life; helping others; developing meaningful relationships; doing good, inspiring work that doesn't feel like work, but is instead a joy. Learning constantly. Reading. Engaging with the world.