Chapter 15: Impractical Interests

The ability to become mentally engaged in various interests leads to happiness, and so it follows that the inability to take interest is likely a cause of unhappiness. In particular, there are a relatively small number of things that are of practical service to most people, and those who never lift their gaze away from them are rather tedious and miserable sorts. There are few things that have an infinite capacity to hold a man's attention, and even those become tiresome after a time.

In many instances it becomes necessary to turn one's attention away from a problem in order to return to it with a clear mind, or to "sleep on it" to enable the mind to relax and recognize the details that are often overlooked when one is too fully attentive. "However important a worry may be, it should not be thought about throughout the whole of the waking hours."

There are many amusements that serve to divert attention from the routine affairs of daily life: watching games, going to the theater, playing gold, or reading a book (so long as it is unconnected with professional activities) can be very satisfactory.

BR also suggests that impractical interests help a man retain his "sense of proportion." There is a tendency to become absorbed in work and develop a grandiose sense of its importance, and participating in some diversion is a reminder of how small a part we play in the whole of humanity, to gain proper perspective and eschew melodrama and the constant anxiety that results from it.

He repeats his concern about the mercenary nature of higher education, and its product are men who are skilled for to begin work in a narrow profession but ill equipped to appreciate life in the broader sense. Having a broader context grants purpose to a man's work, at the same time as it discourages overestimation of the significance of that purpose.

In a sense, it is recognizing the greatness of a soul, and in so doing a man cannot permit himself to be petty, self-seeking, or troubled by trivial misfortunes.

He also mentions impractical pursuits as a healthy escape from times of trouble - stress, anxiety, and grief can be overwhelming. The man who does nothing to distract his mind allows his troubles to acquire "a complete empire over him" and often acts rashly or unwisely, and it is such a man who is most often broken by sorrow - or turn to the less healthy escapes of drunkenness and drug addition as his method of escape. The behavior of a soldier who plays chess on the eve of battle or the man who putters about his garden after receiving news of the death of a child may seem perplexing and irrational, but there are clearly worse ways to cope with anxiety and grief.

It is not merely healthy, but necessary that the whole meaning and purpose of life should not be instilled upon one thing, or even a few, which are at the mercy of accident and random chance. To pursue happiness requires amassing a number of subsidiary interests in addition to those central ones upon which life is built.