Friday, March 20, 2015

Teaching Happiness: A Picture Book Review

Queen Composter is sharing a way to talk to children about being happy with what you have.

As a teacher one of the first ways I teach something is through reading a picture book. There's something about compelling illustrations to draw us into the author's message. I believe that picture books can be used with all ages, be they young children or fully grown adults.

Teaching about the importance of the Earth and environmentalism is a tough topic for children, as the Climate Crusader has found, and I have found one of the best ways to engage children with difficult topics like the environment and social responsibility, is through reading books.

One area of my life that I am trying to work on is being satisfied with what I have and not desiring more stuff, like my own Making Do Movement, so I was drawn to a book in my school library,  The Short And Incredibly Happy Life Of Riley by Colin Thompson and Amy Lissiat.

It is about a rat named Riley who is content with his life. When he looks in the mirror he sees himself. When he eats his favourite fruit he is happy. He lives a short, but content life. Humans should never, the author contends, compare themselves to animals because they will always be disappointed. 

Humans look in the mirror and wish they were bigger, or smaller, or looked different. They aren't satisfied with the food they have or what they do with their lives because they look at others and compare. They live a long, unhappy life wishing they had more. 

In our lives today stuff is so important. We want more to fill the void of unhappiness. We want more as a sign that our lives are improving. We compare ourselves to others and feel bad about ourselves. The unfortunate thing is that there will always be someone smarter, prettier, wealthier than us with more style. 

I am not immune to this thinking. I remember as a teenager thinking that if I just had those new pair of jeans like other girls I would transform my life and my social life would improve. But as an adult I am no different. If I just had that awesome nontoxic reusable dish for my baby she would eat her food when we go out. If I just had that awesome new kitchen gadget I'd be able to make healthy meals for my family. That new gardening tool will transform my vegetable beds.

Obviously our brains do not work in this obvious and overt way, but that is essentially what happens beneath the surface when we see more and want it cause others have it. No matter how intelligent and savvy we are, we are prone to the messages of the media and advertising. And we cannot escape advertising no matter how hard we try. 

Companies and corporations will always try to make us dissatisfied with our lot, make us desire more and want want someone else has. Rats are fortunate because they do not have ads tailored to their individual preferences based upon their recent Google searches. Rats' lives are much shorter than ours, but they have what they have, and they are who they are. 

This is a great book to open up the discussion about what is enough, what would truly make us content, and why comparing ourselves to others is wrong.

In the end, according to the author, "that is why people should never compare themselves to animals. They will always end up feeling depressed."

Wise words indeed.


Anna (Green Talk) said...

Great point. We spend way too much time comparing ourselves to others and being who we are not.

We have to choose to be content who we are and fill our lives with joy!

Green Bean said...

I love this! Recently facing my mortality (due to illness), I started realizing that it doesn't matter what my hair looks like today. If I don't lose 5 pounds, I'll be fine. If my clothes are so last season - or so two seasons ago - it won't change anything. I don't need a new sofa or a new gate. Our society has so skewed what people focus on. The book your mention is a great way to bring that back into balance. What really matters is what we do, who we are, what we accomplish. I mean to make the most of the time I have left.

Lisa said...

Sounds like a good book and message!


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