Small stuff

Had two more Opening Day classes yesterday, beginning with my first-ever 8 am class and concluding with the Philosophy of Happiness. Both went well, dwarfing the trivial annoyances, interruptions, and worries – a malfunctioning machine, a pair of looming deadlines, a nonconforming online form – that crowded in to fill the day’s midsection. The early class gave me just the timely distraction I needed, from a rude school crossing-guard’s gratuitous shout and whistle. (There must be magic in those whistles, the way they seem to empower some of their blowers with a sense of arrogant authority.) The later class compensated for the computer “help” that was no help at all.

The great thing about my job, and I suppose any job that regularly offers the possibility of absorption and constructive interaction with interested/interesting humans, is that when it goes well it makes all that other stuff and nonsense feel as small as it really is. A time-out from turbulence and trouble, a reminder of the shopworn wisdom in the old cliche about not sweating the small stuff.

In Happiness class I solicited a class Grump, someone who would admit to being unimpressed by our culture’s manic pursuit of happiness and disinterested in its attainment. One or two confessed to a streak of pessimism but most seemed amenable to my Jamesian starting-point:

If we were to ask the question: “What is human life’s chief concern?” one of the answers we should receive would be: “It is happiness.” How to gain, how to keep, how to recover happiness, is in fact for most men at all times the secret motive of all they do, and of all they are willing to endure. William James

So, we’ll let Schopenhauer’s ghost be our class Grump this time:

What disturbs and depresses young people is the hunt for happiness on the firm assumption that it must be met with in life. From this arises constantly deluded hope and so also dissatisfaction. Deceptive images of a vague happiness hover before us in our dreams, and we search in vain for their original. Much would have been gained if, through timely advice and instruction, young people could have had eradicated from their minds the erroneous notion that the world has a great deal to offer them.”

Well, I said, he’s wrong. Oh, the world offers us plenty of small-potatoes unhappiness every day (see paragraph 1 above), the small stuff we all tend to sweat. But as yesterday reminded me, it offers other stuff too. Good stuff.

And I’m going to push my line on Schopenhauer: his ghost will never admit it, but his profession of pessimism made him happy.

5:30/6:16, 59/81

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