Why we can learn a lesson from restless ‘Rasselas’

I was reading a book called “The History of Rasselas: Prince of Abissinia” by Samuel Johnson the other day for my 18th century Lit class with the infamous Dr. Auge. It’s all about a guy named Rasselas who lives in essentially a Utopian valley. He’s the son of an emperor, and he lives in this perfect valley with his brothers and sisters until it’s his time for him to rule. Anything that he wants is immediately provided for him. All wishes and desires are immediately granted. His father hires poets and artists to educate his children, who all live in the valley together. He visits them once a year, but lives in the public to rule his kingdom. The emperor is very careful not to let anything in to corrupt the valley that he has constructed for his children, and no one is supposed to come in and out besides him to preserve the sanctity of it and protect those living in the valley from the corruption of the outside world.

Rasselas eventually gets tired of everything being so perfect and grows depressed. Eventually he comes to the conclusion that because he has no challenges and no passions, he has no direction or purpose for his life. He sets outside the valley to find something to inspire him and to find out more about happiness and how to obtain it. (For those who didn’t read the book… you’re welcome for the summary.)

The point I’m making with this is that it’s made me think a lot about complacency and the idea of happiness. You would think that as a junior on the tail end of my college career, preparing to enter into an entirely new stage of my life, that I wouldn’t know anything about complacency. But this isn’t true. After reading “Rasselas” I realized that I’ve been in a rut lately. It’s so easy to get into a daily routine and stick to it, and I’m definitely someone that likes my routine. And it’s nice having a routine and something that I can stick to, but there’s also the danger of monotony.

To avoid getting stuck in a rut, I think it’s so important to look both backwards as well as at the big picture. Remember why you have to do your homework and go to work. Remember the passions that got you started on the road you’re on, whatever that may be. I started to think about my love for writing and editing, and how I’m working towards a career that I’m in love with, and even though I don’t plan on making any big bucks I know that I’ll be happy going to work in the morning and doing something that I enjoy and believe in. Just thinking about this, and the possibilities of my future, got me excited again and re-energized to get through the days that aren’t always fun, but are more productive. I also mixed up my routine by starting to go to a morning yoga class, making more coffee dates with friends and spending more time outside since it’s (finally) nice out. Sometimes little things like this can make a huge difference too. You don’t have to have some big light bulb epiphany moment and rethink your entire life plan in order to shake things up.

Rasselas was right about passion and learning. Going out of your comfort zone, whether it be to a new physical place or a new mental state or whatever can get you so much more excited about life again and the direction you’re heading. And if you realize you’ve lost passion for something or want to try something new, go for it! It’s never too late to reevaluate and make a change. Don’t get stuck in the valley. Keep moving forward and towards something, whatever you want that to be.

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