Yesterday, while working in the yard, I was listening to an episode of the Making Sense podcast. In this episode, titled Deep Time, Sam Harris was speaking with Oliver Burkeman about his recently published book, 4000 Weeks: Time Management for Mortals.
The conversation covered a lot of ground and it’s not my intention to try and recap the conversation, but there was one particular exchange that stuck with me. While I don’t remember the exact phrasing, a question that was put forward was the following:
As parents, why do we try to give our kids a good childhood? What is the purpose of a good childhood?Making Sense Podcast, Deep Time, Sam Harris and Oliver Burkeman (paraphrase)
At a high level, there are at least two obvious answers to this question:
- The purpose of a good childhood is to prepare a child for a good adolescence.
- The purpose of a good childhood is to have a good childhood.
If you think that the former is true – that preparation for adolescence is the purpose of a good childhood – then that begs the question: what is the purpose of a good adolescence? Following the same logic, the purpose of a good adolescence is preparation for a good young adulthood, and on and on.
If the purpose of one phase of life is simply to prepare for the next, then we’re on a treadmill of seeking and never finding from the day we’re born until we reach the end of our lives.
On the other hand, if you accept the latter to be true – that the purpose of a good childhood is to have a good childhood – then the thing you seek is found as you experience it.
A Subjective Question of Values
This type of question doesn’t have a right or a wrong answer, only answers that are more or less useful. Which of these two options is the most useful?
From a productivity-focused dispassionate third-party perspective, perhaps the former answer is most useful. If you keep your eyes firmly on the horizon perhaps you’ll accomplish a little more professionally and make more money in life. I don’t know if that’s true, but perhaps it is.
However, from the perspective of lived experience and as a parent, I am convinced that the second answer is the most useful. I want my kids to have a good childhood not so that they can one day grow into useful adults, but because right now, today, it brings me joy to watch them experience joy. I want them to experience joy and to love life. The potential for my kids to experience the most joy is found in keeping their focus on the good things in life all around them.
If I’m going to wring the most out of life, and if my kids are going to do the same, I must (and I must teach them to) recognize that the process of life is the purpose of life.