The Happiest Thing in Life

My 12-Year Old Knows It Best

This is the topic for my second son, Dusty’s Chinese school speech contest this year. I scratched my head when I saw it. What is he going to choose? How is he going to describe that? In his 12-year old mind, I would expect perhaps something like a Star Wars Death Star Lego Set that had asked Santa for long ago, the latest game software for his Nintendo DS that his friend showed him, or even acing all his tests and winning nothing but praises from his parents…

Even for us grown-ups, this is one that is hard to pin down. First true love? Great family? Successful career? Good health? Survey one hundred people, and you probably receive eighty-nine answers.

 I was intrigued when I read the beginning of Dusty’s speech: “The happiest thing in life is when you know you are growing up.” Then it dawned on me: How true!

Whatever makes you happy, and whatever you value and treasure at the moment may be simply a fluke, or is merely a sliver of life. And life is about growing up.

When you are first born, exhausted from just completing such a long and sometimes painful project, your parents can finally exhale and congratulate themselves: this is the happiest thing in life. For you, knowing nothing but hunger at this point, having a nipple in you mouth would just do.

Then you have your first smiles, followed by your first hand gestures, your first words, and your first steps. Your Mama and Papa are so excited about those milestones and want to record them all; and you gladly comply, looking so cute on camera. They are so proud of you. Now you all have a new happiest thing in life.

Soon you would make another major step forward and are going to school. You might feel a bit overwhelmed at first, but joy and excitement would eventually take over. Your parents are just like you, happy as ever, because everyone realizes that you are growing up.

Amid the English teacher’s monotone lectures and that hated big-shot jock’s bullying, do you realize that your eyes are always following that freckle-faced skinny girl who only wears blue? Your heart races and your palms get wet when she is within ten feet. Then she starts talking to you; she lends you her powder-blue calculator; and she always smiles when she sees you. Oh, you are in heaven, for you know you are no longer a little kid.

With the SAT faded in the past, you’ve just moved in the dorm room at the college in your top five list. After unloading the dozen or so bags and boxes, your dad pats you on the back and your mom weeps. You can barely contain your own smile though it’s for an entirely different reason. Nonetheless all three of you are feeling the greatest now that you are coming ever closer to adulthood.

Four years’ partying and all-nighters are history; you’ve earned your cap and gown. Your internship last summer went well; and you’ve just signed off the offer sheet from an S & P 500 corporation. Your career path is set; and you are at the doorstep of independence. You are a grown man! Are you thinking this is the best thing in life? You bet ya!

Life goes on .You enter different stage of your life, meet more difficult challenges and achieve higher goals. Every time you have a success, you bring yourself up to a higher level. You inevitably have setbacks, but you know you will have another crack at it tomorrow and can eventually succeed. Then you realize you’ve grown again. What makes you happier than seeing yourself getting better?

Dusty is right: The happiest thing in life is when you know you are growing up.

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