post written by: Marc Chernoff

What We All Want To Be When
We Grow Up

Find what makes you happy

When I was in elementary school my parents told me it didn’t matter what I did when I grew up, so long as it made me happy.  “Happiness is the whole point of life”, my father said.  “Your mother loves to help people, so she became a nurse.  I love reading, writing and poetry, so I became an English teacher.  We both find happiness in the work we do each day.”

A few years later when I was in junior high, my grumpy 6th grade homeroom teacher put me in detention for “being difficult”.  She went around the classroom and asked each student what they wanted to be when they grew up.  When she got to me, I told her I wanted to be happy.  She told me I was missing the whole point of the question.  I told her she was missing the whole point of life.

What do we all want to be when we grow up?  Happy… that is all.  Find what makes you happy and do it until you die.

Photo by: Mareen Fischinger

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  • I love that “you’re missing the whole point to life”.

  • Hey, you are smarter than your teacher.

    What you said to your teacher is so smart!

    I love it!

  • haha.. that’s all we need in life…to be happy. Right on! Your teacher was an idiot.

  • Good point.

  • I’m 45 and still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. Is that a bad thing?

    Remember that is “Happiness is the whole point of life” you have to define happiness. Is happiness getting everything that you want, or appreciating everything that you have?

  • She told me I was missing the whole point of the question. I told her she was missing the whole point of life.

    Haha, I’m not surprised you were in detention! ;)



  • Such a great reminder that Happiness is really the key. Reminded me of a site “the Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin- thought it was worth mentioning to you. You can check it out at Thanks for your blog!

  • There is no shortage of smart-alecks. That’s why there are so many detention halls.

    This post lacks depth. No Stumble today. Sorry.

  • Wow, I like it! I want to be happy too!

  • I love this site. You guys write great articles. Keep up the good work please.

  • I had almost the same thing happen to me.
    I wanted to raise geese.
    I’ve been happy my whole life!!!

  • Excellent bit of wisdom. If you’re not happy then you’re definitely doing something wrong. I’ve taken a slightly more scientific approach to this concept at my Physics of Chi website:

  • Yup, your teacher was definitely missing a whole BIG point. And you have wise parents. :)

  • @Bill: All kids are smart-alecks… and many of them have smart points they simply convey at not-so-smart times. ;-)

    @All: Thanks for the comments.

  • That was simply superb. I just loved it…. !!

  • Simple post yet very touching. Thanks Marc!

  • Being happy is definitely near the top of our list. Basically, everything we do is to make us happy. We want to be rich because being rich will make us happy, we want to be healthy because being healthy will make us happy.

    Happiness is the ultimate aim eventually.

    Personal Development Blogger

  • Sounds like you were cool back in the 6th grade too. :) Not many kids have the courage to answer to a teacher like this…

  • great story!

  • That is awesome. I love that a sixth grader had that great of an awareness of life. What great parents. I hope my kids answer the questions of happiness and life in the same way…

  • A few years back, one of my staff always added this objective to his annual list: Have fun at work. I never asked him to remove it and in our periodic reviews we would assess how well he was meeting this objective. I can tell you that my team during this time was the strongest and most motivated I’ve ever had the privilege of leading. I believe that it was because we did have fun at work every day. There was laughter and happiness all around even though we had a lot of serious work to do. You can either do work that makes you happy or be happy at work - the choice is ours.

  • Right on! I wish I could have seen that teacher’s face.

  • In Buddhism, they talk about “a beginner’s mind”. This is a mind that is open to all possibilities and has no preconceived notions. It’s interesting that accomplished Buddhist practitioners strive to have the mindset of a 6-year-old. Kids are definitely on to something…

    It would be great if everyone could retain more of this freedom of thought as they grow older.

  • I love it! Out of the mouths of babes… Thanks for sharing that story, and the wisdom of this article.

  • I love this blog! I’m 17, a senior and under more pressure than ever figure what I want to be but if I had to choose just one, I just can’t. So many things make me so happy to the point I could do it for free. Learning about nutrition, culinary arts, architecture, real estate, foreign languages as well as other culture all fills me with incredible solace. Maybe I can be a part-time chef, a architect who sells her own properties, a personal trainer as well as a yoga instructor who travels the world all at the same time!

  • @Kathy: Very true. It is possible to accept a situation for what it is and make the best of it. Oddly, happiness can be produced by the decision to be happy.

    @MiniLifeHacks: I love the notion of the ‘beginner’s mind’. It is free… free of contamination.

    @Marbelllawoo: Try it all. Something will eventually stick.

  • Ever since I read this post (yesterday on the train back home) I have thought of it, I think, 3 or 4 times. I really love what you said about what do we want to be … Happy. Be one before you die.

    I would be curious to see your teacher’s facial expression when you said that to her. But I do agree you were absolutely right. My best guess is that she was used to treating you like a child. But with that statement you totally shacked her little world.

    Nice and thoughtful post. Enjoyed it a lot. Thanks!

  • Simplistic advice of the “Don’t worry, Be happy” variety just makes me shake my head in disbelief. Exchanges like the one with your teacher would seem more apt in a Montessori-type learning environment where a child’s innate creativity is fostered. But in the real world where an American public school education is failing to prepare kids for an unknown future, sassing your teacher simply singled you out as a wiseacre “too cool for the room”.

    P.S. In this day and age, parents who share such sage advice like “it didn’t matter what I did when I grew up, so long as it made me happy” with kids need to understand the ramifications of such counsel on a youngster’s future. In a consumer-oriented (read: spend till the bill collectors come knockin’) culture such as ours, such wisdom may very well set the child on a slippery slope where instant gratification & lack of self-discipline become the alpha and omega of their world.

  • funny how, if it’s “simplistic”, people miss the point anyway.

  • I love this post. Short and to the point.

    We all want to be happy whether we’re growing up grown up, or growing down. There’s no sense delaying being happy until we’ve grown up (or until we’ve done anything, for that matter). Here and now is the only place we can be happy … that’s the point of life. Oh .. and trying to discover from the infinite range of possibilities available, exactly what it is that makes us happy.

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  • This is a wonderful reminder for me as an individual & for me as a parent …

  • I totally agree you need to find work in a field which makes you happy and keeps you passionate. Thanks for sharing.

  • That’s simply Awesome Marc!! Truly inspiring!

  • “She told me I was missing the whole point of the question. I told her she was missing the whole point of life.”

    So true it seems that we know there is so much sadness around only when we grow up..

    But that’s life.. get used to it. :-) Chill..

    ~ Ronak R. / RokZRooM

  • Excellent point… Sometimes it’s so difficult to find happiness though… :(

  • Um. I think your teacher just got told. I wonder if what you said made a difference to her life? Know where she is?

  • LOVE this - thank you for the reminder. Stumbled on your blog through a facebook link and am so glad!

  • I wish my parents had taught me that. I followed the dreams they had for me and now I feel trapped in a job I never wanted to have.

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