A Little Happier: Someone Else’s Enthusiasm is a Powerful Teacher

I look back on all my years of education, in grade school, high school, college, and law school, and I think, “What do I remember, what did I learn, what changed my thinking, what sticks with me?”

When I think back about all the classes I took as an English major in college, I feel like I don’t remember much.

But two moments stick out with particular clarity, and I’ve reflected on why that is.

One moment came during a class in 19th century American poetry. My professor was lecturing about Emily Dickinson, and the class was almost over, and he said something like, “I have no time to digress, but how can I resist?” and he started reading from a poem:

Because I could not stop for Death –

He kindly stopped for me –

The Carriage held but just Ourselves –

And Immortality.

We slowly drove – He knew no haste

And I had put away

My labor and my leisure too,

For His Civility –

And I remember another moment, from another English class, about the plays of Shakespeare, when my professor noted, during a discussion of Antony & Cleopatra Act 5, Scene 2, when Cleopatra says of Antony:

His delights
Were dolphin-like; they show’d his back above
The element they lived in:

And as I reflect on these two memories, it strikes me that perhaps one of the most powerful things we can do is to share our enthusiasm. I’m interested to know what you love, even if I don’t love it myself, and often, love can be contagious.

Even when people don’t remember the lessons we taught them, they may remember our enthusiasm.




Like what you see? Explore more about this topic.

Subscribe to Gretchen’s newsletter.

Every Friday, Gretchen Rubin shares 5 things that are making her happier, asks readers and listeners questions, and includes exclusive updates and behind-the-scenes material.