The philosopher Alain de Botton tells a lovely story about the Sunday night blues: that time when the creep of melancholy steals over the Monday-Friday worker, when you think about the week ahead and feel, well, not entirely joyful.
On speaking about career crises at a TED conference, the engaging, entertaining de Botton says:
“Often on a Sunday evening, just as the sun is starting to set…the gap between my hopes for myself and the reality of my life start to diverge so painfully that I normally end up weeping into a pillow.”
De Botton gets a laugh from the audience at this because clearly here is a man in his element, not suffering painful divergence of the soul at all, but … do you know that feeling?
How far has your life diverged from the dreams you once had? Do you weep into your pillow on a Sunday night thinking about what might have been?
At The Hoopla we came across an inspiring video from the late British philosopher Alan Watts (1915-1973) who was famous for interpreting Eastern religion and philosophy for a Western audience.
In working with school graduates in vocational guidance, Watts would ask them: “How would you really enjoy spending your life?”
“What would you like to do if money were no object?”
The students would tell Watt that they’d like to be painters and poets and writers, but “everybody knows that you can’t make any money that way.”
Forget about the money, Watts would say.
“If you say that getting the money is the most important thing, you will spend your life completely wasting your time.
“You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living, that is, to go on doing things you don’t like doing, which is stupid.”
Hard to argue with that logic.
“It’s better,” says Watts, “to have a long life doing what you love doing, than have a long life spent in a miserable way.”
The prominent British educator Ken Robinson, author of the book The Element – How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, argues along similar lines. He believes we are all born with tremendous natural creative capacities, but that we lose touch with them as we spend more time in the world.
And through that, we lose touch with who we really are.
He writes: “A few years ago I heard a wonderful story, which I’m very fond of telling. An elementary school teacher was giving a drawing class to a group of six year old children.
“At the back of the classroom sat a little girl who normally didn’t pay much attention in school. In the drawing class she did. For more than 20 minutes, the girl sat with her arms curled around her paper, totally absorbed in what she was doing.
“The teacher found this fascinating. Evenutally, she asked the girl what she was drawing. Without looking up, the girl said, ‘I’m drawing a picture of God.’
“Surprised, the teacher said, ‘but nobody knows what God looks like.’
The girl said, “they will in a minute.”
Robinson says he loves this story because it reminds us that young children are wonderfully confident in their own imaginations, and that most of us lose that confidence as we grow up.
“Ask a class of first graders,” he says, “which of them thinks they’re creative, and they’ll all put their hands up. Ask a group of college seniors the same question and most of them won’t.”
You have to wonder what happens in between.
Have you lost touch with a dream you once had for yourself?
What would you do if money were no object?
And, as we come to the end of another school year, what would you advise your children as they face the adult work of work?
Here’s Alain de Botton:
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*Lucy (Editor of The Hoopla) is a journalist and editor with almost thirty years experience in newspapers and magazines in Sydney, London, and New York. She has been published in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, The Daily and Sunday Telegraphs, Vogue Living, Australian Art Review, and Gourmet Traveller. Most recently the Books Editor of the Sunday Telegraph, she has also contributed to the non-fiction books, Australia Through Time, and What Women Want. You can follow her on Twitter: @lucykateclark.