You may have heard the expression that ignorance is bliss. Taking a look at some of history’s best known geniuses, many were tortured souls who led less than felicitous lives. In the case of some, the constant search for new knowledge — and thus the banishment of ignorance — was a source of great remorse and anguish.
When you stop and think about it (irony aside), it seems that some of the happiest people in the world are also those who lead the simplest of existences. They may not be aware of the tragedies of war. They may not know that someone means them harm, so they bandy around without a worry in the world. By contrast, you see a great struggle among college students, politicians, and other people with ever-expanding world views. It seems like the more we know, the more we suffer and the more we realize how little we truly know.
Let’s take a moment to consider a few illustrations as to why ignorance may indeed be bliss. You might be happier just not knowing, even if this lack of knowledge is potentially doing you harm.
- Income Tax – I always cringe just a little when I hear someone celebrating their massive income tax refund. They don’t realize that they have essentially given the government an interest-free loan. A conventional employee loses their income tax at the source every two weeks and this ignorance makes paying tax a little less painful. By contrast, regardless of their business structure, entrepreneurs have more flexibility when it comes to doing their taxes. And with these options come a lot of potential headache.
- Cell Phone Plans – Many people don’t know that if you’ve been with a particular carrier for some time, you are able to get a much better cell phone plan than what is openly offered. All you have to do is call their “retentions” department and ask for a deal. This knowledge can be a source of slight despair, because you know that you’re probably overpaying for your cell phone service.
- Comparing Yourself to Others – You’ve just landed a big promotion at work, accompanied by a healthy raise in pay. You’re feeling great about yourself, until you find out about someone else in a similar position who is making even more. When you were ignorant of the difference, you felt great. You were proud of yourself. Gaining this knowledge and comparing yourself to others can put a serious damper on your happiness. The same can be said about blogging success, fitness goals, or any number of other things.
- Knowledge of Evil – Before you were made aware of thieves, con artists, murderers and rapists, you would probably feel fine about walking down a dark street, alone, in the middle of the night. Armed with this knowledge, you’re probably a little more hesitant and it can be a source of great fear should you find yourself in such a situation. Think about how carefree you would be if you assumed the best of people.
- Coming of Age – Most children are happy little people, because they are still ignorant of a lot of things. They can be satisfied by the simplest of pleasures. Contrast this to grumpy old men who have grown weary of the world. There are exceptions, to be sure, but it seems like the older we get, the less happy we become. You can’t deny the appeal of childhood innocence.
In the end, it seems clear enough that an ignorant existence could be a more blissful existence. Even so, I don’t want to be ignorant. I want to know everything. It is this avid curiosity, this thirst for knowledge, this insatiable appetite for truth that defines what it means to be human. Without this unending quest for information, we would have never learned of past civilizations, the dinosaurs, or the nature of gravity. And we wouldn’t have blogs either. Learning or experiencing something new can be a great source of happiness.
If the price for greater knowledge is a little angst, so be it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some meta-thought to do.