In August 1933, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a letter to his young daughter Frances who was away at camp. It’s a beautiful, personal letter from a man who was flawed—failed by his own parents—but tried, especially at the end of his short life, to step up and do the right thing.
Hearing that his daughter was happy at camp, he replied that he was happy to hear this. But, sounding a bit like a Stoic, Fitzgerald writes that he doesn’t believe much in happiness for its own sake. He doesn’t believe in misery, either. These things, he said, are creations for fiction, not for life.
“I feel very strongly about you doing duty… All I believe in in life,” he tells his daughter, are “the rewards for virtue (according to your talents) and the punishments for not fulfilling your duties, which are doubly costly.”
We want our kids to be successful, to have fun, to achieve great things, but we should remember that Fitzgerald did all these things, and where did it get him? A life that is about chasing external things might make you famous, but it will cost you in the end. It will crack you up, as it did for Fitzgerald, which is why we must teach our kids to believe in something greater than just happiness and pleasure.
They have to believe in duty. To the common good. To their own talents and potential. To their family. To those four virtues: courage, moderation, justice, wisdom. If you’re going to believe in something in this life, don’t believe in happiness or misery. Believe in duty.