Success and Life Satisfaction
As an officer of the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa organization, the national honor society whose members are elected on the basis of very high grades in a liberal arts curriculum, I had come into contact with many of the members. In our conversations, most appeared to be well-adjusted, satisfied and optimistic people, leading me to wonder whether academic achievement and life satisfaction were positively linked. When the Phi Beta Kappa Society gave me access to a nationwide sample of their members, I had the opportunity to learn the answer to my question.
The series of studies I then conducted provided the material for my book Top of the Class: Guiding Children Along the Smart Path to Happiness (Stamford, CT. Ablex Publishing). Let me share some of the findings in my book as well as my thoughts and ideas on child rearing that I gleaned from my research as well as through my observations as a teacher, parent, grandparent and counselor.
As a group the high academic achievers, who served as my subjects, were generally able to use their talents to the fullest. They tended to make well-reasoned choices professionally, socially and personally. They did well in their chosen fields, were satisfied with their marital partners, and had good relationships with their parents, their children, and other family members.
These achievers set definite goals for themselves and strived to attain them. However, they were not fearful of changing directions or taking chances. Through their academic competence and their self-discipline, they achieved an ego-strength that enabled them to do well in other than scholarly activities. Apparently, the skills they acquired in the classroom could be readily applied to settings other than the academic. They myth that the academic achiever is only interested in intellectual activities should be dispelled immediately. These academic achievers wanted to succeed in their social interactions and were interested in theater, movies, museums and other cultural events. They liked to attend parties and be with friends.
As students and then adults they had a strong love of learning, were intellectually curious, and simply loved to read. Many of the subjects in my book were over the age of fifty but still maintained a high degree of interests. Some had undertaken second careers, other enjoyed more leisurely activities; with many of them spending time with their children and grandchildren.
I learned from my research and observations that a true love of learning and pride in academic studies will elicit the skills and discipline that will enable youngsters to become productive citizens. These youngsters will mature into adults who will be satisfied with their lives and the choices they have made. Academic success holds the promise of a joyful, gratified life filled with rewarding interpersonal relationships.
In exploring the factors that influenced the
lives of the scholars, I learning that their childhood homes were
warm and loving; all the children were treated fairly, and all of
them were encouraged to develop themselves to the fullest.
These homes also fostered a strong love of learning. Their
parents served as good models, filling the homes with books as well
as reading themselves. The achievers also reported having
chores to do at home when they were young and spoke of order and
structure in their households. Their parents respected them and in
return they respected their parents,
Taking the lead from the parents of the academic achievers, most parents can envision academic success for their children if they instill in them a love of learning, surround them with respect, love and good counsel, and, of course, take an interest in their education. But, more important, their greater reward will be watching their children grow into happy, contented adults.