Happiness & Education. “The Art of Life” Book by Bauman

Bauman raised a question of adult education in his work The Art of Life and it appeared to be a logical continuation to all his previous studies and attempts to modify the human way of thinking and consequently the way of life. Bauman was rather pessimistic about the role of the present-day education in the person’s socialization, considering the school unable to give the theoretical material and to form the skills, required for the postmodern citizens to survive in this liquid consumer type of society. Bauman regarded the democratic society the best educator. He limited the main purpose of the learning process to the ability to change the life frames and to adapt to different unpredictable, constantly changing circumstances.

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That is what the art of life implicates, presupposing the life-long education, education of adults, the kind of education that Bauman tried to provide in his works and that thousands of his contemporaries managed to find in them, putting him on a pedestal.

The concept of happiness

Zygmund Bauman used to oppose some of the classical sociological issues claiming to be a post modernistic sociologist. He was investigating the reasons for a person to be happy or unhappy in a certain society, he afforded himself ignoring some principal moral statements trying to be as objective in these difficult and intimate questions as it is possible for a sociologist still remaining a human being.

The sense of the existence and the primer motivation for all kinds of activities have been discussed from times immemorial. Most of the studies admitting the selfish nature of the humans use the concept of happiness while debating about these topics. Bauman makes his readers forget the generally accepted notion of happiness, admitting the necessity of one-upmanship. And that is the answer to Bauman’s question what wrong with the notion of happiness is. Now and then everyone pauses in order to think about the direction of his movement and his nearest point of destination. Everyone is sure that the nearest point will make one happier, or even the happiest one and a reasonable question about the action plan occurs to the person. That is the pint where the Bauman’s book providing the adult education may be useful. Thinking over the things one can afford oneself while reaching the goal, a member of the society may doubt what social rules one may break and what restrictions one may circumvent, while changing the life frames. Everyone makes his own choice and most of the restrictions are due to the inner limitations and personal taboos.

In our individualized society we are all artists of life – whether we know it or not, will it or not and like it or not, by decree of society if not by our own choice. In this society we are all expected, rightly or wrongly, to give our lives purpose and form by using our own skills and resources, even if we lack the tools and materials with which artists’ studios need to be equipped for the artist’s work to be conceived and executed (Bauman, 2008, 1).

It is up to the person to decide whether he/she is going to make a masterpiece out of his/her life or to remain it a mediocre exemplar, left unnoticed in the life art gallery. It is comfortable to speak about lack of materials, not suitable atmosphere and absence of inspiration but when the materials from which the Universe was created are considered there was not much to speak about too. It is not pencil that creates the picture and not a white sheet of paper that determines the content of a would-be novel, it is the artist’s genius that is of crucial importance and nothing else matters. Then the question is whether an individual is talented enough to live this life with dignity. Bauman never insisted that all the artists are genius, they just have everything necessary to be, to make the right choices, to write interesting novels or to paint beautiful pictures. The sociologist accepted the fact that not everyone is able to make the right artistic choices and design something great, there is always enough place for ordinary and ugly things. But it is the way this world is organized and only in comparison to the mediocre things the true works of art become more noticeable and valuable. The Art of Life stimulates learning how to become happy having determined the personal content of this notion.

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Roles of members of the consumers’ society

Another argument is that adult education is necessary for the readers to confess that being members of the consumers’ society, they are made play the role of the consumer or the service provider at different periods in it. And on having realized and confessed their role it will be much easier for them to play it more successfully and to reach happiness by all means. From one side it is a bit shocking to call things by their proper names but having collected oneself after the shock experienced the attentive reader would make the conclusions and continue the movement in the chosen direction having taken them into consideration. Bauman advises: “Think of your life as if it were a banquet where you would behave graciously” (Bauman, 2008, 25). Returning to the topic of creating a work of art from the events of your life, Bauman reminds the reader that creating a masterpiece an artist must behave graciously and rush as well as the unnecessary emotions are out of the question. At this point Bauman combines the theoretical propositions of Psychology and Sociology. According to his saying, an individual must behave with dignity and always remain self-confident and noble calm, whatever may happen. But introducing this statement into the theory of the consumers’ society does not lead the reader to misconception because all the advice serve to achieving the main goal – happiness and mastering the art of life.

The society never deprives its members from making their own choices

At the same time nobody will deny that the selfish desire to be happy may be subdued by different social circumstances and a person may lose one’s way during his movement to the nearest point of destination. Almost in everybody’s life happen such moments when waking up in the morning and living the day up to the end one has no time or will to think the events over, to analyze the surroundings and decide, whether one is doing right. These are the moments of moving with the stream, the periods of drifting, what appears to be the easiest one can do in any situation – not to maintain any resistance and to stoop to fate. But on the other side even doing nothing is the person’s conscious choice and it often means that the strongest inner struggle is taking place in one’s soul. Reading the extracts in which Bauman writes that society influences the people choices greatly, one may come to a conclusion that every choice one makes are determined by the society one lives, social status of one’s parents and the average income of his family. But as it was already mentioned, all the author’s statements one may interpret due to one’s own way of thinking. Bauman admits that any society can not deprive a person from making one’s own choices. One may always answer “no” and turn to another road if one wants to. Every person chooses what to say, where to go, what literature to read and what conclusions to make. It is possible to do so even when some individuals do not see any opportunity for it, while thinking about the problems people sometimes forget to look for the solutions.

Attempts to open the reader’s eyes at the absurdity of the present-day situation

In order to inspire the readers for further search of the solutions, Bauman tried to develop their ability to think critically and analyze the received information. The next lesson that Bauman planned for the readers with this purpose is the lesson on the world Philosophy. Reviewing the main points of Fukuyama’s theories, Bauman used ironical key in order to express his attitude towards the Fukuyama’s statements. Bauman tried to be delicate while opening the reader’s eyes upon the main Fukuyama’s misconceptions, but strict enough at the same time. Dwelling upon the business theory Bauman continues excursion at the Seneca’s room. As a matter of fact, the style of narration may be considered to be eclectic and selective. But the diligent and attentive reader manages to follow the main author’s idea development and becomes pleased at the discoveries shared with Bauman.

In order to add oil to the fire the sociologist describes Nicolas Sarkozy’s and Amos Oz’s pages on MySpace. The manifesting of the very fact of existence of these pages makes the reader smile and feel proud of the conclusions to which Bauman led him/her. Mentioning the chaos theory in his further reasoning should not surprise anybody. It seems to be so logical to use this theory for supporting the main idea of chaos reigning in the postmodern society as well as in the thoughts and beliefs of the postmodern people. Bauman tried not only to open the reader’s eyes at these concrete misconceptions, but to learn to be selective, choosing the sources of information and to become a critical listener and thinker.

Bearing in mind all the above mentioned factors and theories, the reader is prepared for the climax of the narration, the Nietzsche and Levinas’ imaginary battle, which can be produced only by the rich Bauman’s sociological imagination.

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Short essay about the concept of the generation gap and research as to its origin and further development provide the food for the reader’s thought. Touching a rather up-to-date problem of eating and different disorders connected with it Bauman returns the readers to the reality of the postmodern society and its new challenges.

Bauman’s contribution to the adult education

It is not only that the question of the adults’ education is raised in the work The Art of Life, but at the same time this book itself made a great contribution to its readers’ education and personal development, it helped thousands of people in their movement to happiness and in conveying the concept of happiness some subjective meaning, dealing with the questions of life-long education, provided by the society, generation gap, eating and disorders caused by the misbalanced diet and the food quality.


Bauman, Z (2008). The Art of Life. Malden MA: Polity Press.

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