The Relationship of Happiness and Competence

Practicing her mill circle on bars at a gymnastics meet
My daughter practicing her mill circle on bars at a gymnastics meet

“The ingredients of competence include observation, study and practice.”
– L. Ron Hubbard, The Way to Happiness

My wife and I spend a lot of time talking about our goals for our kids, and how we’re going to go about making them happen.  In the end, like everyone else, we want our kids to be happy.  A major factor of that, and in my estimation one of the more crucial factors of “happiness” is COMPETENCE

When kids are little, it’s the more basic physical competences that give them (and us) so much pleasure.  Learning to walk, learning to use the bathroom on their own, or learning to select and don a ridiculous and weather-inappropriate outfit all on their own – these are all things that make kids happy and make a parent feel like they’re getting something done.

I think it gets a bit tougher, though, once they’re past that stage.  They want to eventually be dressed and feed themselves.  But do they want to be a gymnast like you were as a kid?  Do they want to play the same musical instruments you did, or mountain bike or play soccer? It doesn’t even remotely create the same pride of accomplishment in the child when they’re only doing a sport because you did it as a child, and they’re thereafter required to measure up to your standards of interest or achievement.

So, after a lot of talking and a lot of effort exposing the kids to as many different activities as possible, they’ve started to really pick up activities of their own choosing that they’ve developed a burning desire to become competent in – and it’s such a joy to watch that process unfold.

And it’s a joy for so many reasons.  Because competence stems from one’s ability to LOOK, LEARN and PRACTICE, it develops and hones those skills which themselves are tools to be successful in any life endeavour.  My eldest is now extremely interested as a gymnast, and practices with her team 10-15 hours/week.  She’s gotten to move past that stage of amateur spectatorism into having to confront the component competencies and abilities that go into being able to do the cool tricks she sees the big girls do.

The kids have also taken a major interest in skiing, which in addition to getting them outdoors (another one of my major parenting priorities) has provided further impetus to them to learn and practice their craft until they’re good at it.

It doesn’t matter to me even the slightest bit whether or not they’re going to end up on the ski team or as a pro gymnast or anything.  If they get the idea of what it is to practice something hard until you’re really good at it, to observe others and really look, and to study until you understand things – that alone is a major fraction of my parenting journey for them right there that will set them up for success in the future.

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