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The Pursuit of (Un)Happiness

Scott Allenby

During our Accepted Student Days earlier this month, Assistant Head of School Alisa Barnard and Dean of Student Wellness Megan Hardie hosted a session in which they asked parents to write on sticky notes their greatest hopes and fears for their soon-to-be Proctor students. When viewed in the aggregate, the spectrum of emotions represented what we each feel as parents: a hope for our child to gain independence, new experiences, find connections, friends, and to receive the academic support they need and a fear the opposite may occur without our daily guidance. 

Proctor Academy Parent Advice

As parents, our hopes and fears often operate in binary terms, when in reality the adolescent journey is one of living in the “in-between” of the peaks and valleys, rough patches and times of healing, feeling pull on the reins of their youth and a return to our arms for reassurance and comfort. We fear the tension of change that our teenagers naturally introduce into our lives, and our job is to learn to find space in our children’s journey to both hold them appropriately accountable and to encourage healthy risks they may want to take. 

Proctor Academy Parent Advice

Watching decades of Proctor students find their way through their high school years, it is so abundantly clear that there is no easy path through adolescence. A student’s Proctor journey will not be perfect, but as Proctor educators, we are repeatedly encouraged by our willingness as a school to have tough conversations with our students and their families, and to seek the best solutions we can to make sense of the imperfect science of raising adolescents. 

Proctor Academy Parent Advice

Dean of Faculty Lori Patriacca ‘01 recently shared an interview with author Arthur Brooks, whose most recent book, Build the Life You Want: The Art and Science of Getting Happier is co-authored with Oprah Winfrey. In the interview, Brooks and host Dan Harris discuss myths of happiness among other topics. One exchange that stood out as Brooks and Harris discuss the components of happiness serves as sage wisdom for us as we consider raising teenagers. Brooks notes, “Society has a mindset ‘if it feels bad, make it stop’...Basic negative emotions are fear, anger, sadness, and disgust. These keep you alive. Negative experiences are the ultimate way that we grow…You can’t get a sense of meaning in your life unless you have suffered…We are doing our kids no favor by trying to protect them from the normal pathogens of social life. I don’t want my children to be hurt, my kids' hearts to be broken. I don’t want that. But I need that, and so do they.” 

Proctor Academy Parent Advice

"We are doing our kids no favor by trying to protect them from the normal pathogens of social life. I don’t want my children to be hurt, my kids' hearts to be broken. I don’t want that. But I need that, and so do they.” 

The podcast interview linked above is worth a listen, especially within the context of Proctor’s mission as a boarding school and both the fears and hopes parents shared during Accepted Student Days. As Brooks discusses, the path to happiness is not rooted in more happiness, but in productive struggle. We must communicate to our children that we are not in a pursuit of happiness, but a pursuit of balance, of experiencing joy and sorrow, despair and hope, productivity and apathy, happiness and unhappiness. 

Proctor Academy Parent Advice

We are witnessing a pandemic of anxiety and depression in young people, and we must look critically at ourselves, our school, and the environment our students live each day as we look for remedies. As illogical as it may seem, perhaps we need to embrace the notion that insufficient struggle in the lives of our children leads to an untested immune system when it comes to resilience. Anxiety is a non-negotiable in life, and if we, as a school in partnership with our parents, can introduce healthy challenges, push our students to be self-advocates, to handle obstacles that come their way, maybe, despite momentary unhappiness, we are helping this generation of Proctor students pave a road toward long-term happiness and fulfillment. 

Read more about Being a Proctor Parent HERE! 

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