”Ignorance is bliss. I wish I still had some.”
Ignorance really can be bliss.
It may not feel like it when your naivety is exposed, but psychologists say that ignorance is something to enjoy.
And it is because ignorance gives people more freedom to make choices and decisions.
‘If everything is laid out for you and you know all about it, you’ve got no freedom.’
‘You need unknowns, otherwise, there’s nothing to discover and there’s nothing new to create,
‘Imagine knowing beforehand the plots and endings of all the books you’ll ever read or the movies you’ll ever see.‘The same goes for pleasant surprises, such as birthday or Christmas presents.’
”I’m a believer in ‘Ignorance is bliss.”
It is a kind of splitting, I think, in which we remember what we once had as better than it was and we relate to what we do have as worse than it is. Is childhood really all that blissful? And is adulthood really all that miserable?
Childhood does have a kind of bliss, indeed. Children do not have the kinds of burdens that adults have—the burdens that come with responsibility and with awareness of the complexities of life. As adults, we have a kind of primal longing to return to that idealized state, a state in which we felt that someone unconditionally met our every need.
Surely there are moments of bliss in early life—and every child should have them. But the truth is that all children—even those with very fortunate beginnings—have a mix of pleasant and painful experiences. Childhood is messy—hunger, hurt, disappointment, and worry is natural and inevitable childhood experiences. In fact, the less awareness one has as a child, the greater the bliss but also the greater the anxiety. Lacking the big picture, you have no idea what is going on. To a baby, waiting a moment for mom can feel like the end of the world!
Ignorance has its place in life for awhile, though. Parents protect their children from knowledge which is too much for them to bear, too confusing for their little minds to process. For some time, children can operate successfully under the “need-to-know basis” of parental protection. But ignorance in this sense only works if there is an adult mind on the scene to do the protecting. As we grow and become more independent, we must develop an adult mind of our own. Otherwise, we are in big, big trouble. It’s not hard to imagine what I mean by that, but I like how one person put it: “When you’re an adult, ignorance-is-bliss today means you have an STD tomorrow.”
So what’s the alternative? Put simply, the alternative is growing up—not just on the outside, but on the inside, too. And in growing up, there is both loss and gain. Yes, grown-up knowledge brings misery—if, by misery, you mean awareness of misery. Whatever idealizations we had about the world are sullied by the facts of life. This is a necessary part of growing up but does not necessarily lead to misery. As the veil of idealization falls away and the realities of life are more evident, we see miseries we never saw before but we also see many joys.
While in the muck and mire of adult life, it is easy to lose sight of its blissful moments. But there is a real sense of pride, joy, and happiness that comes with being an adult. In our better moments, perhaps we can feel the satisfaction of raising a child well, developing a skill, accomplishing a goal, or building a healthy love relationship. But there are everyday satisfactions, too, that we often overlook like offering a kindness, telling the truth, having a good idea, paying our bills, learning something new. In their own way, these moments bring a kind of bliss, too.
While the baby part of our psyches baulks at responsibility and longs for the days when someone else took care of us, the adult part of our psyches reaches forward to new, good experiences. As the new school year begins, maybe you know a child bound for kindergarten, high school, college, a first job, a new home, a new relationship. We see in them a longing to go back toward the safety of the past and a longing to go forward to the new challenges of the future. Ignorance is bliss on the one hand; curiosity and the thirst for knowledge on the other. Like so much in life, it is good to have a balance.