Our school year is divided into four learning cycles, each of them lasting nine weeks. It means the cycles don’t coincide with Christmas and Easter, and may be broken up by the holidays, but it is a more logical division of the year than three unequal terms. In humanities, each cycle is a discrete unit, with its own focus, so it was that in the last religious education cycle for Year 8 we looked at Buddhism and Sikhism and this cycle the focus is Humanism.
In the lesson, “What is Humanism?” there is a quote from Robert Ingersoll, the Nineteenth Century American writer and Free Thinker. In our own times, when the United States has been ensnared by fundamentalist Christianity and increasingly bizarre conspiracy theories, it is hard to imagine that Ingersoll’s free thought would command a great audience. The quote from Ingersoll is included because it expresses the Humanist belief that the only place in which we live is the here and now and that the only place for happiness, then, is the here and now. Ingersoll wrote:
Happiness is the only good.
The place to be happy is here.
The time to be happy is now.
The way to be happy is to make others so.
The concept of happiness seemed to confuse some of the students. Asked to complete a template with words and images of things that brought them happiness, there was a blank look from some. One said that there was nothing at all that made her happy because she spent all her spare time riding her horse and there was no time to do anything else; another said that the only thing that made him happy was his X-box.
It would have contradicted the spirit of the lesson to have started making lists of things in which students in a school rated outstanding by Ofsted in a beautiful part of the country might find happiness. At the back of my mind, there was a song from forty years ago. Ian Dury made a lengthy list of things that created a sense of well-being, his Reasons to be Cheerful included:
Some of Buddy Holly, the working folly
Good Golly Miss Molly and boats
Hammersmith Palais, the Bolshoi Ballet
Jump back in the alley, add nanny goats.
Eighteen-wheeler Scammels, Domineker camels
All other mammals plus equal votes
Seeing Piccadilly, Fanny Smith and Willy
Being rather silly and porridge oats.
Forty years later, is there really such a sense of there being no happiness?