“I am done with it! I am irritated! This is frustrating! Why does it happen only to me?”
We face problems everyday and life for no reason keeps throwing something at us. Even when our toe gets hit by furniture, we start cursing and stressing. No matter how trivial or challenging a problem is, we constantly worry about it. But all these problems can be romanticized as adventures after reading G K Chesterton’s essay ‘On Running after One’s Hat’.
The essay starts with Chesterton envying people who were in London when it was flooded. He says that Battersea (a place in London) has always been beautiful and the addition of water has made it appear like Venice. He imagines the boat that bought the meat to have moved with the elegance and smoothness of a gondola (a long and narrow boat).
“There is nothing so perfectly poetical as an island; and when a district is flooded it becomes an archipelago.”
The optimism of the essayist makes him romanticize the flood which we would normally think of as bringing misfortune, destruction and loss.
“The true optimist who sees in such things an opportunity for enjoyment is quite as logical and much more sensible than the ordinary.”
Most of the instances which we perceive as inconveniences are completely related to our mentality and outlook. The essayist gives an instance for example. When there is a delay in the arrival of the train, the grown-ups complain while the children never do. This is because for children, a railway station appears like a ‘cavern of wonder and a palace of poetical pleasure’. The red and green lights of the signal appear to them as the new sun and moon. So if we view such inconveniences as children do, we shall no more perceive them as inconveniences. All the so-called inconveniences depend on how we view it.
The second instance the essayist gives is running after one’s hat. Many find it unpleasant to run after their hats after being blown away by wind. They run after a ball in a game but not after their own hat as they find it is humiliating.
“When people say it is humiliating they mean it is comic.”
People find it embarrassing as they are laughed at by other onlookers. Their fretful pursuit serves as a source of laughter. But it is all right because everything a human does is comical.
He also says that running after one’s hat has the potential of becoming a sport and it can be an alternative to poaching. “He might regard himself as a jolly huntsman pursuing a wild animal,…”. The essayist imagines it to be a common sport among the upper class. They would have their personal assistants run after the hat on a windy day and it would provide them a hearty laughter. This will be less painful than animal hunting too. The essayist says that we should be relieved of distress if our actions can provide laughter for others.
The essayist recalls how his friend struggled with a jammed drawer everyday. So, he points out to his friend that he is always finding the drawer troublesome because he always opens it while thinking that it should be easy to open the drawer. He says that the main problem lies with his friend’s outlook. Hence, he advises his friend to think of himself as “pulling against some powerful and oppressive enemy” or as participating in some fearsome tug war. If he imagines such situations when pulling the drawer, then it will no longer be an inconvenience but an adventure.
So, if we develop a positive outlook on everything that we encounter everyday, maybe life won’t be as hard as we think. After all,
“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”