The sooner our health-instinct is developed, and then taken as a matter of course, the sooner can the body become a perfect servant, to be treated with true courtesy, and then forgotten. Here is an instinct of our barbarous ancestry which may be kept and refined through all future phases of civilization. This instinct is natural, and the obedience to it enables us to gain more rapidly in other, higher instincts which, if our ancestors had at all, were so embryonic as not to have attained expression.
Nourishment, fresh air, exercise, rest,—so far as these are not taken simply and in obedience to the natural instinct, there arise physical stones in the way, stones that form themselves into an apparently insurmountable wall. There is a stile over that wall, however, if we will but open our eyes to see it. This stile, carefully climbed, will enable us to step over the few stones on the other side, and follow the physical path quite clearly.
The ability to be easily and heartily amused brings a wholesome reaction from intense thought or hard work of any kind which does more towards keeping the nervous system in a normal state than almost anything else of an external kind.
As a Frenchman very aptly said: “This is all very well, all this study and care to relieve one’s nerves; but would it not be much simpler and more effective to go and amuse one’s self ?” The same Frenchman could not realize that in many countries amusement is almost a lost art. Fortunately, it is not entirely lost; and the sooner it is regained, the nearer we shall be to health and happiness.
One of the chief impediments in the way of hearty amusement is over-seriousness. There should be two words for “serious,” as there are literally two meanings. There is a certain intense form of taking the care and responsibility of one’s own individual interests, or the interests of others which are selfishly made one’s own, which leads to a surface-seriousness that is not only a chronic irritation of the nervous system, but a constant distress to those who come under this serious care. This is taking life au grand serieux. The superficiality of this attitude is striking, and would be surprising could the sufferer from such seriousness once see himself (or more often it is herself) in a clear light. It is quite common to call such a person over-serious, when in reality he is not serious enough. He or she is laboring under a sham seriousness, as an actor might who had such a part to play and merged himself in the character. These people are simply exaggerating their own importance to life, instead of recognizing life’s importance to them. An example of this is the heroine of Mrs. Ward’s “Robert Elsmere,” who refused to marry because the family could not get on without her; and when finally she consented, the family lived more happily and comfortably than when she considered herself their leader. If this woman’s seriousness, which blinded her judgment, had been real instead of sham, the state of the case would have been quite clear to her; but then, indeed, there would have been no case at all.