Book Name - An education in Happiness
(Author – Prof. Flavia Arzeni)

By Eng. Zahra Marzook

Happiness is neither a privilege of the few, nor a fleeting state of mind: it is hidden behind a door that every person can open once they have found it, at the end of an arduous journey of self-discovery.

Growing up, we were never taught that happiness is important. Instead we were taught and directed towards success, achieving high education status or maybe earning a truck load of money. Our school education system gave us the idea that If we pass Ordinary level we will be happy. Next if we pass the advanced level we will be happy. Our tuition class teachers gave us the message “If you enter the university you will be happy”. But, was happiness education ever in our educational curriculums? The answer is NO.

I, personally believe that the lack of education in Happiness has greatly influenced our choices, our life paths and even our state of Mind which we possess right now. Which is why we can see most of the younger generation is depressed and not satisfied about the choices they have made in life, even when it comes to their career.

However, it is interesting to note that at present many countries have identified that happiness education is an essential part of the school curriculum. At the present time, with the enhancement of national competitiveness, several nations and organizations of the World including UNESCO, not only study well-being subjects at several research agencies and groups, but also pursue the welfare policy of higher education. (Jeong-Kyu Lee, 2008)

Although the world have found a new interest in Happiness Education, two Nobel Prize-winning writers discovered the importance of Happiness Education decades ago.

Rabindranath Tagore and Hermann Hesse, are cultural opposites. They came from two different backgrounds. Still they found and profoundly understood the path to happiness lies within small acts and simple notions.

In her award winning Book, first published in Italian, Professor Flavia Arzeni, presents the life stories of these two Literary Legends in a whole new light. Flavia Arzeni is Professor of Modern German Literature at the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at the University La Sapienza in Rome. Her previous works include Images and Symbols.

Which is why she uses the metaphor of the garden, in many places of the book which was a common interest shared by both Hesse and Tagore. This also inspired the author to create a garden for meditation on the border between Tuscany and Umbria, close to the same paths that Hesse walked in his Italian journeys.

Within the pages of the book you can find that both Tagore and Hesse moved towards ideals of harmony, happiness and wisdom which went beyond the merely contingent. As writers, both men were consistent and obsessive, tackling the same themes over and over—the primary role of nature in human existence, the importance of work and of love for one’s fellow men, the joy of small everyday things, the essential function of art, and the reconciling of different cultures and religions within a single great unity that transcends space and time.

When it comes to Herman Hesse, he had a disturbed childhood, and in his memory school remains an enemy, the implacable destroyer of all creativity, the leveler of all spontaneity. He was a young rebel who later went through two failed marriages. He experienced severe depression, anxiety, migraine and often questioned himself “Are you Really Happy?” with a sense of wistful longing.

But it’s important to note that he wanted to become a poet or nothing at all. Which led him to study about the relationship between art and life. He also underwent psychoanalysis (Psychoanalytic Therapy, n.d.), from a student of Carl Jung. He was embarked in a journey to find himself.

In one of the passages in his book Demian, he has written “An enlightened man had but one duty – to seek the way to himself, to reach inner certainty, to grope his way forwards, no matter where it led.

Ultimately he formulated his own idea of Happiness as follows.

“By Happiness today I mean something totally objective, in other words totality itself, being without time, the eternal music of the world, what others have called the harmony of the spheres or the smile of God.” Something, in other words, that “does not know time, history, before and after”

In his long search for Happiness he found his Garden of Happiness. But he goes through a journey of self-transformation in which it is important to note that He read a vast amount of literature which he called the Library of World literature. These included discourses of Budhdism, Bhavat Gita and Upanishads. He also learns to appreciate art, Music and most importantly gardening.

Then the second lead character of the book, Rabindranath Tagore, had a completely different kind of childhood. Born into a prestigious family he was predestined for fame. However, just like Hesse, Rabindranath hated school, from the moment he set foot in it until, at the age of fourteen, he abandoned it altogether.

His mother was an open-minded woman of marked artistic interests which influenced him a lot as a child. He himself said ““I sometimes detect within myself a battleground where two opposing forces are constantly in action, one beckoning me to peace and the other egging me on to battle. It is as though the restless energy and the will to action of the West were perpetually assaulting the citadel of my Indian placidity.” Which means he was facing an inner conflict

Suicide of his young sister in law following his marriage to another lady impacted his state of mind immensely since it is said that he was quite close to his sister in law. When he was seventeen, his father decided that the young man should continue his education in England. For a person who was born with a silver spoon, within 5 years span Loss of wife, a daughter, a friend, father and a son was difficult to handle for him.

As a result the idea that death and life are not in conflict, but live together in the mind and fate of man, was not new to him but was one of his deepest beliefs. Pondering deeper he understood that ‘Education’ and ‘happiness’ can be harmonized. Further he had the understanding that Education was not an end in itself but a means to an end, and it was impossible to use the same formula for everyone indiscriminately

Thus he combined his love for things of the spirit (poetry and words) and the social and humanitarian impulse to serve the community. As a result on 22nd December 1901, Rabindranath Tagore established his school at Santiniketan(His residence) with five students (including his eldest son) and an equal number of teachers. The major difference in this school compared to the British education system was that creativity was encouraged. Art was appreciated. Nature was integrated.

He wrote “If men and women aspire to attain a condition of joy and serenity in the course of their lives, they will first have to rediscover, not only a love of nature, but the feeling that they themselves are an integral part of the natural world”.

He realized as he grew mature that, “love is the highest bliss that man can attain to.” Where he refers to love for all living beings (Meththa).

He also makes two complementary points.

  1. in love we feel we are part of something infinitely bigger, part of a whole.
  2. That only through this feeling can we be happy.

We cannot love what we do not know, and we cannot be happy if we do not love—that is Tagore’s message.

Ultimately the message from the book comes down to this.

  1. Difficult times, personal crisis come to all of us – Both Herman Hesse and Rabindranath Tagore went through them regardless of the family background or birth. We have to be ready to face both.
  2. Self-analysis, in depth study of one’s own emotions and psychology is essential in order to decide what one needs in life.
  3. Being in harmony with nature gives us an opportunity to find happiness and mindful gardening is almost like meditation.
  4. Loving what we do is important for happiness.

As Arzeni puts it only “Through self-knowledge, each person will discover their own path, find their own answer and, with it, their own share of happiness.” It is important even as Engineers, to develop self-awareness and educate ourselves on Happiness in order to be better prepared to serve the community.

(Rabindranath Tagore won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. Herman Hesse won the same in 1946. Their work has been widely received worldwide and well known)

Eng. Zahra Marzook

CEng. (IESL), MIET, MBA(OUSL), BSc.(Hons.) Ruhuna
Electrical Engineer (Ceylon Electricity Board)
Assistant Treasurer WEF, Treasurer IESL-Puttalam District Center
Assistant Secretary - IESL YMS


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