“If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or things.” Albert Einstein – Happiness
What’s the best way to lead a happy life?
When kids talk about strategies for living a happy life, they often talk about goals, like getting a great job or becoming famous. If they reach that goal, then that’s clear evidence of success and deep satisfaction for having pursued something to completion. But, what about the relationships we build? They also shape our happiness in a meaningful way. Sorting what makes a person truly happy is challenging work.
Join Steve and Dan Fouts with Emily Pool, third grade teacher, for a conversation about happiness and how depending on people and things may not be our best option for achieving it.
Dan Fouts 00:00
Hello, Steve and Dan Fouts here. We’re veteran educators from Illinois, who have created the Teach Different podcast to model how to have unforgettable conversations using a super simple 3-step method, and quotes from some of the world’s great thinkers. This method works with students of all ages in all types of classrooms, and can be used in online or face-to-face environments. So, if you’re a teacher, administrator, social emotional learning specialist, or anybody who loves the art of conversations, you’ve come to the right place. Welcome.
Hello everybody, and welcome to the Teach Different podcast. We are extremely excited about our guest thinker or philosopher, Albert Einstein and his quote about happiness. In our Teach Different Conversation Library we already have conversations with him on obedience and imagination, and now we’re adding one on happiness. He has quotes on a lot of different and very interesting topics.
Using our method, we’ll start with Einstein’s quote on happiness, that I’ll share in a moment, then we’ll talk about the claim, what you think it means, and then we’ll move to a counterclaim, pushing against his view of the world with another idea that’s equally reasonable. That’s the tension. For a good old fashioned conversation, you need to have different perspectives, different ideas, that are shared. Finally, we’ll end with an essential question.
We have one guest tonight, and she will be introducing herself once she weighs in on the quote. Now, let me share the quote. I’ll say it a couple of times and will try to repeat it during the podcast to keep it fresh in everybody’s mind. I’m Dan, by the way. Here’s the quote, “If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or things.” “If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people, or things.” Emily, would you like to weigh in?
Emily Poole 02:24 – Claim
Hi, I would love to. First of all, thanks so much for having me and letting me come and think with you. I’m really excited to be here. My name is Emily Poole, and I am a third grade teacher in Quincy, Illinois. I usually have about 20 to 25 sweet little faces in my room. We were very fortunate, thanks to our superintendent, to have in person classes every day this year. That was big excitement for us. Aside from regular classroom teaching, I also do professional development, and help with the Quincy conference. Pre-pandemic, the Quincy conference had about 2000 educators that we were able to gather together. We were able to share a variety of learning and other opportunities with teachers to help them grow. I also do some work as an ambassador for Sisa, which is a digital portfolio for students, and I’ve done that for a while. The quote for tonight, “if you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or things.” That’s a really big one. I think it’s a goal for so many people, to live a happy life, to live with purpose and joy and happiness all around us. This quote really resonated with me right from the beginning. When I read it, it got me thinking about what do we want to tie our happiness to and how do we get there? What I kept going back to was that if you tie something to a goal, where you want to go, that’s usually a more static place, at least in the short term. Your goals might change, but that goal stays the same. The people, things, and influences tied to that goal are going to change all the time. So, if you tie your happiness to the people that come in and out of your life, or to the things that you have, you might get frustrated, lose your lose your way with, or not feel that you’ve found that happiness. Finding happiness with a goal instead would really help you to live that happier life.
Steve Fouts 04:39
This is Steve. The goal is more static, it’s more predictable. Maybe it’s even more achievable. If you tie your happiness to a goal, you actually have more control over whether or not you’ll get it right. Whereas, if you’re depending on people, they aren’t always the most dependable. They change, and you change. Same thing with things. You end up getting the things you think are going to make you happy, and then what happens? It’s not what you thought it was. But, goals sometimes change too, right? We don’t always know what it is we want. I’m with you, Emily, it’s when you tie it to things that you can’t lose that you have a better chance at being happy and maybe fulfilling those things.
Dan Fouts 05:49
Yeah, this is Dan. I would agree with what you’ve both said. It’s something about strive. Emily, did you use the word striving?
Emily Poole 06:02
Yeah. I think it’s the idea that if you tie it to a person, you can’t really control other people. We might influence people or they may influence us in different ways, but the goals inside of us are the things that we choose, we’re in control of our choices. That goal is a choice that I make for myself, or that someone else makes for themselves.
Steve Fouts 06:33
Yeah, interesting. If you set a goal, it seems like Einstein is saying that to be happy you have to be searching for something, that you have to be going after something. It’s not about achieving something specifically, but it’s the journey that gives you the happiness. It’s an interesting psychology to think of happiness that way, and to put people as secondary. Very interesting. Emily, what do you think your third graders would say about this quote, in terms of what they think Einstein means?
Emily Poole 07:28
I think it would open up a great conversation with them, because I think a lot of third graders find happiness in things or people. They might want to get the new iPad or Playstation, or they might be happy with their dog. It would be a good conversation to help them recognize that the best things in life are not necessarily things, but rather our purpose, goals, and how we make the world a better place. Those are really the things that at the end of the day bring us true happiness. Have I brought my best self to the world? Have I sought better things? Untying them from some of the materialistic, or surface level, wishes and wants of eight years old and getting them to think more about thier relationships. Even though we say it’s not tied to people, it is tied to our goal of being a good person to others and being good to the world.
Steve Fouts 08:34
I’m glad you said that, Emily. That’s exactly what I was thinking. It’s hard for me to even imagine living a happy life because I set the right goals, but to not have it dependent on other people. We have quotes in our library about being happy through a life of service, that what makes you happy is when you help others. I feel like we’re dancing on a counterclaim right now and I’m gravitating toward another way to look at this. But, I wanted to say one thing about what, Dan, you were saying. “If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal.” Is he talking about a happy life being the process to achieve a goal, or is he talking about a happy life being the end of accomplishing a goal? Does that make sense?
Dan Fouts 09:42
Yeah, I thought it was talking about achieving it, the journey to get there, being tied to a goal. A happy life has to be the thing that you work to get and the goal is intimately connected to that. That’s how I interpreted it.
Steve Fouts 10:07
Okay, and you’re happy on the way?
Dan Fouts 10:08
Yeah, because you set the right goal.
Emily Poole 10:13
I think it also has to do with fulfilling and finding your purpose. What’s my purpose in life? It’s not happiness, or that happy life, but finding your purpose in this life.
Steve Fouts 10:40
There you go. Is the purpose happiness, or is the purpose something else? By being determined to reach it, you find your inner peace, you find your happiness. Happiness is a consequence of believing in something. It’s not a goal in and of itself. I’m just thinking out loud here. I was thrown off a little bit because I don’t know which one he’s talking about here, and maybe it doesn’t matter. A good side conversation, Emily, with third graders, or any age, would be what is happiness. If you started there, I don’t know if you’d ever get to this conversation, because you’d be unpacking that.
Emily Poole 11:32
I think with a big quote like this, especially with third graders, you really have to break down those pieces and look at them. What is happiness? How do we find happiness? Is there one way to find happiness, or are there a multitude of different ways that we can find happiness. Taking the kids away from materialism, but also recognizing that your dog does matter. He’s a member of the family, and a goal to keep him safe makes you happy. But, we can’t tie all of our happiness to a thing or a person, it’s the choices that we make for ourselves.
Steve Fouts 12:16
Right, and I think the phrase “tie it to a goal” could be a separate conversation, in the spirit of breaking this quote up. What does it mean to tie happiness to something? I’d like to hear what they have to say about that. How will students process that, at any age? No matter the age, we would unpack this quote in the very same way, their answers would just be vary in sophistication.
Emily Poole 12:52
Third graders, even though they’re eight, will astound you and blow your mind with their thoughts. When Einstein says “tie it to a goal,” I like to think he means tie it to your goals, because our goals change, grow, and develop. Anytime we’re getting kids to think about their goals, how that feeds into their life, what they’re doing to help achieve them, and where they’re going is important. Those are conversations we have naturally, and this just ties into that. I think it illustrates the power of choice for the student or for a person.
Steve Fouts 13:25
Yeah, agency, choice control, you can determine your future. I know what you mean about using goals as a plural. That would have made this quote a little bit more interesting, because goals change, right?
Emily Poole 13:41
Yeah. The goals you have when you’re eight are not the same when you’re 18, 28 or 48.
Steve Fouts 13:48
That’s right. Well, we gave the claim some good oxygen. Emily, do you want to take on a counterclaim?
Emily Poole 14:00 – Counterclaim
Well, I felt like I was struggling with that idea. I felt really strongly about the first belief and it’s such an eye opening experience to go to something else. So, as I was preparing for this and thinking about it, I went to my 15 year old and I said, “Hey, tell me what you think.” Her first statement was a counterclaim. It was amazing. She said, to what extent do you tie your goals for your own happiness? Do you stomp over people or things to get to your happiness? Does it then turn into being self centered, or narcissistic? I’m not tying this to my relationships or things, I just want to make my goal in any way possible. She said, that’s not good either, and I said, oh, good point.
Steve Fouts 14:56
Being overly ambitious and self centered, can create a narcissist, someone who’s just focused on themselves. That’s a really good counterclaim.
Dan Fouts 15:15
The ends justify the means. If that’s your perspective on life, you have to walk over people sometimes to get there, and your 15 year old saw that immediately.
Emily Poole 15:26
Yeah, she just came up with that right out of the gate. She said, but to what extent? I really liked that she took that pause to say our goals are really important, but to not think about the people they might impact along the way is a problem. Here I had just been thinking about tying it to people and connecting them as parts of the chain of progress, and she was looking at it a different way, thinking well you’re not going to stomp over them to get where you want to go, are you? I have to give her credit for that one. I tried to get her to come down and voice it, but she didn’t want to.
Dan Fouts 16:04
Oh, you’ve got to ask her?
Steve Fouts 16:11
That’s a great start. How about this one? I like rewriting these quotes, Emily, for the counterclaim. Sometimes I just look at the quote, and I try to flip one of the clauses to see if I can make it make sense. Here was my adaptation, “If you want to live a happy life, help other people.” I would struggle arguing with the person who believes that, even though this is a valid claim by Einstein. I think if you’re focused on other people, the issue is what are you focused on? What kinds of relationships do you want to have with people? If you want to help, and that’s important to you, then I can see that bringing you happiness. If you see people as a means to an end and someone to stomp over, that’s a different story. I just I throw that out as a another way to talk about a counterclaim.
Dan Fouts 17:18
To see happiness intertwined with the people around you, that you’re part of a community, and your happiness is dependent on how you treat others, and how you live with other people, that’s a very different spirit than focusing on the very narrow myopic view that this is my goal, and I’m going after my goal, and if I get there, I’m going to be happy.
Emily Poole 17:42
Yeah, you hit the nail on the head. What is your goal and then thinking about it from there, because some goals might be good, and some goals might not be the best for your community. With third graders we put such a focus on working together, teamwork, and community that when we discuss this, we want to make sure we talk about what kind of goal their tying it to and how it impacts not only them, but the world around them. I would say to live a happy life we have to realize that we are all interconnected and we are all dependent on each other.
Steve Fouts 18:25
What if I were to rewrite this quote slightly by adding the word noble? I don’t like the word noble, maybe you can help me find a better word. If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a noble goal, not to people or things. Bring attention to the fact that the goal needs to be something that is worthwhile, that is good, at least you think it’s good. It’s not just any old goal, but tie it to something that’s going to make the world better, maybe a common goal. That’s just one way to clean it up and maybe make it stronger.
Emily Poole 19:07
I think what you said opens up doors for conversation. What is a noble goal? What makes our classrooms, our schools, and our social community better? What goals help us achieve those things? What are some things that we’re seeking, but aren’t leading us toward those goals, and helping kids recognize which path we’re on?
Steve Fouts 19:35
Dan Fouts 19:36
That conversation would get the kids thinking about where they’re headed in life. Third graders need to be thinking about this. High school students need to be thinking about this. As a teacher, you have to manufacture these conversations or they really don’t happen, right? You want to create opportunities like this, and take advantage of them so the kids can hear each other talk about their goals, and evaluate them. That’s really important.
Emily Poole 20:15
I think it’s important for each kid to recognize that their talents, their strengths, who they are, what they bring to the world, is a gift to the world. Their talents make it better. What about them makes them unique and special, and helps them be an asset to worldkind? We often ask, what do you want to be when you grow up, but I think a bigger, better question is, what are you going to bring to the world? How are you going to help make the world a better place? Often that is through the jobs that we’re able to do, but it’s not always. It can be a lot of things that bring happiness to the world.
Steve Fouts 21:04
That takes self awareness. The way to become self aware is to talk with other people. Sometimes your friends tell you what your gifts are, or your teachers tell you what your gifts are, because you don’t have the age, maturity, confidence, or trust to recognize it for yourself.
Emily Poole 21:24
Yeah, I agree. Around third grade is a pivotal point for students in recognizing that I am the factor in my destiny. I make choices. Yes, my parents are there, my teachers are there, but there’s a strong correlation between the choices I make and how they lead me to where I’m going. How do I handle these things? Going back to that idea of choices. What choices can I make to help me go where I want to go? It’s a big thing for them to recognize that.
Steve Fouts 22:01
We have the theme happiness attached to this quote, but I think it could also relate to choice. I don’t know the exact word to use, but there is a theme here of, not self-control, self-determination, something like that.
Emily Poole 22:29
When we’re thinking about curriculum connections, how do we network inside of our community? How are we using our goals and choices? Taking this further, we do a lot of studies with mentor texts and picture books, how can we see this coming through some of the characters and the stories that we read? That can be another way for kids to understand this. If they’re not quite seeing it in their own world, they can look into a literary model, or a picture book, and see it for someone else. Then maybe it’s not too personal, and they might be able to deconstruct or think about it for that character.
Dan Fouts 23:11
That’s a great idea. As a teacher you could tease out characters from any novel or short story that kids read. Let’s say you had this conversation before their reading, so when you talk about the characters, I’ll use the Great Gatsby as an example, you can ask what would Jay Gatsby think of Albert Einstein’s quote? Would he agree or disagree, based on what you’ve learned about his character? What a great way to connect it?
Emily Poole 23:48
Absolutely. A lot of the the read alouds and the model texts that we use lend themselves so nicely to these quotes and allow the kids to really step into the perspective of that character. There’s that social emotional piece to our community, creating a classroom that works together, supports and encourages others, but here we’re tying it to people. I don’t think you can totally separate those things. A third grader would say, but so and so is not the reason for your happiness or unhappiness.
Steve Fouts 24:28
Maybe it’s okay to have a goal being people, everybody getting along, but not to tie it to specific people. I think he could handle that with his quote.
Dan Fouts 24:42
I’d love to chat with him about this one. What exactly did you mean here?
Emily Poole 24:48
Yeah. For third graders, this would be where we talk about a goal. Getting them to think of a bigger goal, not I hope that I get the swings at recess, but something bigger.
Dan Fouts 25:02
That’s great. I think we gave a lot of treatment to both the claim and the counterclaim. Emily, you brought up side conversations about what happiness is, what are your goals in life, and materialism. There are a lot of subplots going on with this particular quote. As you demonstrated, Emily, this quote is applicable in an elementary setting, a high school setting, and a middle school.
Well, let’s wrap up with an essential question to get everybody thinking about the conversation and to leave some reflection time. Here’s an essential question that could flow out of this conversation – What’s the best way to lead a happy life? Kids could write on that or think on that. You could talk about that at the end of the unit, at the beginning of the school year, and then at the end of the school year.
Emily Poole 26:14
Absolutely. The earlier we get them started having these conversations, the earlier they start to recognize the power of their voice.
Dan Fouts 26:24
Well said, Emily. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast to share your perspective, your excellent ideas, and also giving us a window into a third grade classroom and what they would say about some of these big ideas. We really appreciate you being here. Thanks, everybody. We hope you’re walking away feeling energized by some great ideas, and are confident that conversations like this are possible with a little bit of planning and a 3-step method. Make sure you visit our Conversation Library to discover resources and other conversations we have ready for you. Don’t forget to teach different with conversations and make a difference every day.