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For a child, being carefree is intrinsic to a well-lived life

Some people are lucky enough to look back at their childhood with affection for a time in life without much stress and anxiety. They might think of long hours spent playing in the backyard free of worry, or pursuing projects and relationships without apprehension or fear. Such tender memories are often in stark contrast to the lives many lead as adults, where stress and anxiety seem to dominate.

The fact that many struggle to be carefree in adulthood raises a number of interesting questions about the relationship between carefreeness and the good life. Is being carefree a special good of childhood? Is it something that confers meaning on the life of a child, without doing the same for adults? Or do adults need to be more carefree, and so be more like children, in order for their lives to go well? Most importantly, if carefreeness is indeed a necessary precondition for a good life, why exactly is that so?

As a parent of two young children, and someone who works on family philosophy, I have recently turned my attention to the question of what it means for childhoods to go well. Thinking about the goods of parental love and education, I have realised that there is something special about being carefree that makes it a necessary component of a well-lived childhood. Yet when it comes to adults, I have found that some can lead wonderful, meaningful lives without being carefree.

Such asymmetry between childhood and adulthood is a result of children and adults being different kinds of creatures. Unlike an adult, a child doesn’t have the authority to endorse the valuable goods in her life, if positive emotions towards these goods are lacking. This means that if a child is experiencing stress and anxiety, she will lack the mental space needed for positive emotions towards valuable projects and relationships to arise. As a result, the child will be in a position where such projects and relationships don’t count as constitutive goods.

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