Thursday, 27 August 2015

Mirror, mirror

A lot has been written and much said lately about UK children being among the unhappiest in the world.

All the usual suspects have been lined up for interrogation: exams, schools, bullying, body image. Smartphones too, are apparently part of the problem - owning one can increase the risk of suffering depression. And although such things are obviously only first-world problems (along with 'feeling left out' and 'low self-confidence') they are all real enough and however small they might seem compared to the problems that children (happier children) have in Eritrea or Ethiopia they are - to paraphrase Philip Larkin - happening to us.

As a parent of what I define as three reasonably happy children I confess I'm more than a little puzzled. Although I'm convinced that the pressure schools (and - be honest - many parents) put on children is intolerable it's nothing compared the educational expectations in a place like Japan. Ok, body image and diet is an issue, sure enough, but not having enough food or the right food ranks a little higher. And social media? Isn't the misery caused by social media a bit like complaining about what you're watching on the telly?

But I digress. As ever, the problem seems to be less about what we've got and more about what we think we should have. Everyone is always (or seems to be) happier than us. They've got the looks, more money, nicer hair, a car. It's not the stuff we've got (or not got) that makes us miserable as much as what we're told we want; it's not who we are but those with whom we're forced to compare ourselves.

Forgive the quantum leap, but there's a connection here between kids feeling miserable and things like the Ashley Madison ('life is short, have an affair') site. Not being a member (honest, guv) I can't say I know that much about it but from what I've read, the site exists to persuade people to cheat on their spouse/wife/partner merely for the sake of trying something (or someone) else for size.

There are, of course, people who have affairs (of all kinds) and there probably alway will. And at least in some instances it involves a personal connection, friendship, bond, relationship, with another human being you'd quite like to get to know (carnally). But hooking up with someone 'for the sake of' seems to be the ultimate in the desperate desire for more and different that we're all - as part of the consumerist con - brainwashed into believing will make us happy.

Here's my advice (for what it's worth). Enjoy what you've got. Instead of joining Ashley Maddison (or something similar) enjoy the time you spend with your own partner. Instead of wondering which child has better grades than yours, celebrate their achievements. Oh, and don't buy them the 'next big thing' in toys or take them to that mega-expensive theme park, either. Give 'em a cardboard box or take them to the park instead. Not only is it cheaper, but they'll have a lot more fun. And learn to use their own imagination, too.

And with a bit of imagination...

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