Christmas & The Secret to Happiness | Inspirational Podcast

Podcast Transcript: Welcome to the Inspirational Living podcast, brought to you in part by Book of Zen, makers of wearable inspiration for a better world. Today’s podcast has been edited and adapted from the book Friendship & Happiness by Arnold Bennett, published in 1911.

Children divide their adult acquaintances into two categories—those who sympathize with them in this bizarre and trying adventure called life; and those who don’t. The second category is the much larger of the two. Very many people belong to it who think that they belong to the first. They may deceive themselves, but they cannot deceive a child.

Although you may easily practice upon the credulity of a child in matters of fact, you cannot cheat their moral and social judgment. They will add you up (they will add anybody up) and estimate your conduct upon principles of their own and in a manner terribly impartial. Parents have no sterner, nor more discerning, critics than their own children.

And so you may be polite to a child, and pretend to appreciate their point of view; but, unless you really do put yourself to the trouble of understanding them, unless you throw yourself, by the exercise of imagination, into their world, you will not succeed in being their friend. To be their friend means an effort on your part; it means that you must divest yourself of your own mental habits, and for the time being adopt theirs.

No nice phrases, no gifts of money, candy, or toys, can take the place of this effort and this sacrifice of self. With five minutes of genuine surrender to a child, you can win more of their esteem and gratitude than five hundred dollars would buy. Their notion of real goodwill is the imaginative sharing of their feelings, a convinced participation in their pains and pleasures. If you but honestly do this, you will be on their side.

Now, adults, of course, are tremendously clever and accomplished persons, and children are no match for them; but still, with all their talents and omniscience and power, adults seem to lack those important pieces of knowledge which children possess. They seem to have forgotten, and failed to profit by, their childhood experience. Else why should adults in general be so extraordinarily ignorant of the great truth that the secret of goodwill lies in the sympathetic exercise of the imagination?

Since goodwill is the secret of human happiness, it follows that the secret of goodwill must be one of the most precious aids to sensible living; and yet adults, though they once knew it, have gone and forgotten it! Children therefore may well be excused for concluding that the ways of the adult, in their capricious irrationality, are past finding this out.

To increase your goodwill towards anyone, all that is necessary is to imagine that you are them. Nothing else is necessary. This feat is not easy; but it can be done. Some people have less of this divine faculty of imagination than others, but nobody is without it, and, like all other faculties, it improves with use, just as it deteriorates with neglect.

Imagination is a function of the brain. In order to cultivate goodwill for a person, you must think frequently about that person. You must try to learn about and imagine all of their activities. You must be able in your mind’s eye, to follow them hour by hour throughout the day, and you must ascertain whether they sleep well at night—because this is not a trifling matter.

You must reflect upon their existence with the same partiality as you reflect upon your own. That is to say, you must lay the fullest stress on that person’s difficulties, disappointments, and unhappiness, and you must minimize their good fortune (because we all tend to minimize our blessings)…..

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