One of the best classes I’ve ever taken at Tech is Dr. Hans Klein’s PHIL 3127 class, not just because of its effect on my GPA, but because of its approach to what enlightenment means today. The professor warns that if students are content with life as it is, then the class is probably not for them. While a tad melodramatic, this points out a surprising negligence of most college students’ lives: how often do we actively stop and think about the state of their lives?
“Doing nothing” has not actually meant it for a while. Specifically, downtime is synonymous with Netflix, Reddit or Twitter time, and procrastinating or distracting ourselves from student life feels better than the alternative of productivity. But whether we are bingeing a show or trying to graduate on time, we neglect to step back from the action and consciously think about our lives. On the contrary, we actively avoid being alone with our thoughts.
Life’s quietest moments are polluted with distraction with an almost phobic sense of urgency. God forbid someone’s stuck in a stall without a phone for the little time it takes to do their business. Without a T.V. show in the background, falling asleep might as well be a race to lose consciousness before thinking too much. People text and drive because cars are quiet and drivers realize the inevitable emptiness of life if they do not distract themselves. If we are so uncomfortable with the few moments available to think about our lives, then we need to consider whether we are happy with them or not. After all, we have been told what to want our entire lives. For example, a good education at a top-tier school, a solid job at a company like Google and suburban, homeownership are just a few highlights on the stereotypical list of life’s milestones. It is not that these goals are bad, but rarely does anyone consciously decide that these are their aspirations.
This is what was taught in Klein’s lectures: enlightenment is not dropping everything to be a philosopher, it is stepping back and deciding what you want your to life mean to you. Above all, it is separating society’s expectations from your own desires. Real happiness is the difference between consciously making decisions and passively living life.
There’s no better time than college to start doing nothing, especially since popular opinion thinks students are anyway. Whether it’s reflecting on your major choice or rethinking your career path, having second thoughts now is better than having a mid-life crisis later.