William James, considered by many to be the father of psychology, said:
To give up pretensions
is as blessed a relief as to get them gratified.
This is wonderful wisdom for a happier life. For most of us, there are things about ourselves that we might like to be true, that we might struggle to make true, but that we know in our hearts to be more or less bollocks. And as long as we cling to them, happiness is hard to find.
One such pretension for me is that I’m academic. Last year after finishing a Bachelor of Psychology I was offered a PhD scholarship. I agonised over whether to take it, whether I had the right stuff to be a scholar.
One of my concerns was that I’d spent much of the year watching favourite TV shows, reading books about serial killers, eating junk food, rearranging my playlists, surfing the net, sticking post-its on key pages of fashion magazines and making up very lame jokes with my husband (eg
Q: What does a grammarian get after having a colectomy?
A: A semi-colon).
My friend Sally* spent her time (a) studying and (b) berating me for my inane tastes.
(This became a fun diversion: on seeing her coming, I’d hide Advanced Concepts in Cognition and Perception and start reading Cosmo, bringing forth a vitriolic diatribe of condemnation. What larks! I’d defend myself by quoting that great sage, Homer J. Simpson: Sally, please! I enjoy all the meats of our cultural stew.)
Now it’s not that being an academic and having my interests are mutually exclusive – although let’s face it: leather elbow patches and tweed don’t easily match denim minis, skinny jeans and faux-fur puffa jackets. Rather, it’s a question of what comes from inside out and what comes from outside in.
While pondering the PhD, I realised that for people like Sally esoteric trumps entertaining every time. They’re not doing it to be fancy, it’s who they are. This was liberating, allowing me to embrace my inner bimbo and release my pretensions:
- I’d rather de-clutter my wardrobe than decipher Wernicke’s encephalopathy
- I’m more gifted at lip-synching to Abba at the gym than liberating the secrets of personality disorders in the lab.
- I’m not the person carping about the crap on TV at dinner parties – I’m the one late to the dinner party because I had to set the video for Californication, The L Word and Chaser’s War on Everything.
I decided against the PhD. Instead, I’ve spent this year doing a life coaching course and starting to turn my happiness thesis into a self-help book. I wish things were moving faster but at least I feel they’re moving in the right direction – for me.
And WJ was right – it is a blessed relief.
*Not her real name