Why is it important to learn anything? There are obvious answers. You need some degree of knowledge in order to provide yourself and loved ones with food and shelter. You also need to acquire a certain degree of technical knowledge for work; if you work in administration, you need to know how to use a computer, if you are a mason, you need to know how to lay bricks, if you are a welder, you need to know how to weld. Knowledge of skills to work is necessary to earn a living. These are all really important things and, therefore, really good reasons to learn. But, once you have all this stuff mastered, what is the point in continuing to learn?
The question that we just asked is one that really gets to the heart of the purpose of education. Is education merely for pragmatic things? I need to change the oil on my tractor, so I better know how to remove the filter. If education is just a path for acquiring things we want or need, then once we’ve learned enough to be able to provide for ourselves and we have enough income to pay the bills, it doesn’t seem like there is much of a reason to keep learning! “Well,” you might say, “I want to keep learning so that I can get a better paying job,” or, “I want to learn a new hobby.” Those, however, also both seem like learning just for the sake of getting something else. They are good reasons to learn, but once you’ve accomplished those things, do you still need to learn?
We think the answer is yes. I once had a professor in college who told his class that he had always enjoyed talking about political philosophy and theology with his father, a very bright man. But, as he aged, his mental capacity declined and he wasn’t capable of pondering such subjects. We’ve all seen the mental decline of elderly people in our lives and it’s universally recognized as a sad thing, even if they can still take care of themselves. Perhaps this is because we recognize that people are meant for learning; we crave knowledge even if it doesn’t lead to anything tangible. If there is design to the universe, then it seems like we were made in such a way as to discover this design.
Bringing this back to the topic of wellness, if our minds are made for learning, and if we simply seem to have a natural curiosity and desire to know more, then it would seem that mental wellness includes continual learning. Relatedly, an acquaintance once told me that as a young man, he recognized the wisest people in his life were people who always read; he committed to always having a book on him, even when he was traveling. If you didn’t try our Strive for Five Pages challenge last week, try reading one or two pages a day this week!