Start an activity and ask yourself: Why? When? And how?
This fall I studied happiness. At the university, no less. The seminar was entitled Happiness: Philosophy, Psychology and Economics. I was the only one over 30 there. I felt old.
Why? I have this project, you see. I have already written a book about swearing for teenagers, but I always had to control my urge to make it into maxims about Life and everything. Whenever I am being descriptive (“it is usually adults who have the power to define what is swearing and what is not”), it often feels like the description begs for a normative follow-up (“you must fight that power!”). And having learned a lot from books such as The Happiness Hypothesis (Jonathan Haidt is a Hero), and Stumbling on happiness, I thought I would be well advised to share my knowledge.But first I had to learn more. And to learn more about a subject, the best thing you can do is study it at the university, right?
When? Every Tuesday from 12 to 14.
How? I have always been silent in groups. Especially at school. Well, not always. When I started school, I was the little know-it-all who always had something to say. And I knew I could get the teacher’s attention: once, when everyone in class had their hand up, I thought that Martin had to wait too long to say something, so I put my hand up just to say that: I think it’s Martin’s turn now. But it changed after some time. I remember thinking once “I have something to say, but I don’t put my hand up, it’s the first time, this might change something”. perhaps it did.
We moved and I went to a new school and grew more silent, then there was ungdomsskolen, with all its trials and tribulations and an even deeper silence, and then videregående, where all the others were super smart and knew everything. I remember sweating so much in my palms that my books got wet. I remember having a discussion with my friend from ungdomsskolen about how sprekke (as in snitch because of torture) must derive from german sprechen, and how much we wanted to tell the teacher, but none of us dared.
It has never really changed. Even now. Even at the sailing course. Even at university, where I was the oldest one and had no trouble feeling entitled to treating the teacher as my equal (just because he was my age), I just sat there and listened to what everyone else had to say.
It’s a habit. Or it’s a personality thing.
Either way, I followed the happiness seminar and wrote my exam paper, and in a week or two I’ll find out if I have passed. But I won’t go on studying this semester.
Why? Because I felt too old. Because we’ll have another baby and I write many other things, and have many other projects. Because I was a bad student, being silent and not really participating in class — and not feeling better for it. But I might go back to university later.
When? Next semester. Or the semester after that. If I do it later, it’ll be too late, we’ll be moving back to Norway. I’ll try to be a better student next time around.
How? By participating in class. By doing my homework (By Jove, my sailing homework!). By learning what one should learn and avoid thinking too much outside the box.
Why? Because that’s the best way to learn anything, isn’t it? Just learn the stuff, don’t think too much. Not too many questions! It’ll make it much harder to learn anything.
Ah, but you see, that’s where you are wrong. The more questions the better. You want one example? Nick Brown. Go on, read it.
How many why’s and how’s do you think Nick Brown had to go through to find the truth? How much easier wouldn’t it have been to just accept the 3:1 happiness ratio and leave it at that? If participating in class means potentially making a fool of yourself, or potentially annoying the others, or whatever irrational fears you have about raising your voice in a setting like that — I couldn’t care less. You can be the teacher, right? You don’t mind standing at the blackboard? It’s no different raising your voice from the back of the class. Except you can’t plan anything. (They don’t understand Norwegian at the sailing course? Of course not, the don’t get enough practice!)
But you see, that’s the point. Everything you plan, you already know. In order to learn new stuff, you must let go and test new waters. And in order to sail to new waters, you must choose your sails and words carefully.
I give you three words: why, when, how. Do not under any circumstance use them sparingly. As for sails, I trust you can find your own.
And yeah, Nick Brown is 20 years older than you.