The Key to Happiness: Lower your Expectations

Courtney Gibbons Cartoon

This month the Pasadena City College (PCC) mailed me a brochure of its Spring 2014 Extension classes. I always love reading class catalogs like this because I can pretend for a few minutes that I will actually take a beginning tennis class or attend a Saturday morning lecture on retirement planning (and subsequently open up the IRA that has been on my to-do list for five years).

Although PCC’s volume is slim and includes “3D Bunny Shaped Cake” and “Introduction to Pocket Billiards” classes, it still reminds me of my serious college days, when it was so exciting to receive the course offerings for the semester and to fantasize about all the different teachers and classes and books and potential schedules. Those days are over, of course, but it’s fun to dream. Which is why I read this PCC brochure so eagerly. I even read it while drinking tea and eating some chocolate squares.

As I’m reading it, though, I wonder if PCC might be overselling its offerings a tad and encouraging false hope among the bored, cubicle-dwelling adults like me. To wit, here’s just a fourth of the description for the “Drawing for the Absolute Beginner” course:

Have you always been interested in drawing, but never really knew how to get started? If so, then this is definitely the course for you! Gain a solid foundation and understanding of the basics to drawing and become the artist you’ve always dreamed you could be!

This is drawing for the absolute beginner, mind you, and it’s an online course. After taking this single, $100 course, you’ll become the artist you always dreamed you could be? If it sounds too good to be true . . . .

I guess overselling is just part of selling, whether it’s knives or a gym membership or an extension class. Consider the description for the “What Were You Born To Do?” course (which is a four-hour class held on a single Saturday):

Were you born to make a unique contribution to humanity? Have you discovered or stumbled upon your purpose in life? Progressing towards this purpose brings joy and abundance-straying from it causes stress and emptiness. One of the 33 Natural Talents is wired into your DNA to help you accomplish your purpose. It is so subtle you rarely notice it, yet so powerful it is the source of your highest potential. Elvis, Oprah, and Einstein were all just “doin’ what came naturally.” Applying your Natural Talent relentlessly will bring you everything you desire.

There’s so much wrong with this particular blurb that I can’t cover it in one blog post—its assumption, for one, that individuals live in a bubble, and simply by working hard to discover one’s true purpose and talents (do those even exist?), one can make all his dreams come true, meaning one can become like Oprah or Elvis (P.S. It’s convenient to forget that Elvis died way before his time of a drug addiction. He is not my role model for happiness). OK, back on track: what I’m challenging here is the false promise that figuring out what you’re good at “will bring you everything you desire.” Really? Everything? Is this a class description or an infomercial? Is it weird that classes like these are being offered via an institution of higher learning?

People will read this course brochure in the bathroom or on the way up to their apartment. Then it’ll go in the trash. I understand that. But aren’t these absurd expectations indicative of a larger problem in our society? It’s so easy for us (and so convenient for the ones making the money from it) to believe that a $55 course, a self-help book, or a juice cleanse will make us happy. Happiness isn’t so simple or so individual as that. Maybe, in the way our society defines it, it’s not even natural?

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2 Responses to The Key to Happiness: Lower your Expectations

  1. I love course catalogs for the same reason I love infomercials: the never-ending promise of it all, the annoyingly enthusiastic testimonials by people who used to be (fill-in-the-blank) but are no longer, the stubborn insistence that we can achieve all our hopes and dreams in that four-hour class on a single Saturday. (As it turns out, I don’t even need the class: just flipping through the catalog makes me feel like a better, more evolved, and eternally successful human being–at least until I reach the last page of the catalog and realize it’s still just the same old me.)

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