If you were to ask the question “which one subject should everyone study in order to get the most out of life?” You’d undoubtedly get dozens of different answers, from dozens of different people.
Some people will tell you that the most important topic to investigate is mathematics, as it sets the stage for all sorts of useful jobs, such as becoming an engineer, and also uncovers some of the “mysteries of the universe” in the realm of physics.
Other people might argue that moral philosophy is the most important topic to investigate, as it attempts to provide a meaningful framework for right versus wrong action.
Of course, there’s a lot to be said for both suggestions, and for plenty of others, too. But there’s also a very good argument to be made that perhaps the most important topic for people to study – or, at least one of the most important – is history.
Here are a handful of reasons why everyone should make it their business to study history.
Because knowing the history of your culture and country can give you a greater sense of appreciation
No matter who you are, and where you’re from, if you find yourself in circumstances that you’re generally happy with – and feel that the society and culture you inhabit are basically good for you in some way – it’s important to realise that you owe a significant debt of gratitude to your ancestors for bequeathing you the gifts that you currently enjoy.
All too often in life, we can become jaded, take our blessings for granted, and fail to properly appreciate the myriad opportunities that are available to us.
Of course, if you do allow yourself to take things for granted in this manner, and to be overly negative and hypercritical, you’re setting yourself up for a life that is a lot less fulfilling than it could be, and that simply results in you bringing down the people around you.
By studying history – and specifically, by researching and trying to understand the immense challenges that those who came before you had to endure while building society – you’re likely to feel a good deal more grateful for the luxuries and possibilities that exist in your own life, and to conduct yourself in a more productive way as a result of that.
Because history always contains lessons that are highly relevant to the present
Human beings have been around for a pretty long time now. Maybe not in absolute terms (such as, in comparison to how long the universe has been around) but certainly in relation to a human lifespan.
In the time that we have been present on the planet, we have been in the process of testing things out, making mistakes, finding patterns that work, and generally bouncing ourselves off the world around us to see what happens.
All kinds of lessons have been accumulated as a result of this process, and all sorts of tropes that are still playing themselves out today, have been confronted innumerable times already in the past.
If you live in the United Arab Emirates, for example, you may well find a lot of intriguing and relatable themes emerging in the history of the family of Sheikh Saud bin Saqr al Qasimi.
Culture, tradition, and history itself (as a discipline), always contain lessons that are highly relevant to the present, if we’re only willing to approach them with the right degree of respect and interest.
For example – many of the issues that people experience today, in terms of struggling to identify a coherent sense of “meaning” in their lives, were already being considered pretty hard by the ancient Greek philosophers. Philosophies such as Stoicism and Epicureanism, respectively, were specifically developed as an attempt to figure out the best ways in which to structure a life.
Of course, history doesn’t just contain lessons that apply on an individual basis, but also ones that apply to entire societies. After all, the saying “those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it” exists for a reason.
Because history is full of many great tales, adventures, and intrigues
Human beings naturally love great stories, and this is evident to see even just in the fact that so much money is spent on producing films and TV series, and that so many people are willing to spend their time engaging with these forms of media.
If you listen to the theories of certain mythologists, such as Joseph Campbell, you’ll come across the idea that there aren’t really very many stories that exist in the world. It’s just that the same one, or two, or three templates keep getting represented in different forms over and over again.
A well-written history book is likely to expose you to all kinds of incredibly dramatic, exciting, and heartbreaking stories. That’s because human drama and society serve as inspiration for the stories we tell, just as the stories we tell serve as inspiration for our behaviour.
Whether you’re after heartbreaking tales of romance, soaring accounts of vicious battle and high adventure, records of social upheaval, or anything else, you’ll find that history is full of stories that can really move you.
Because understanding history helps you to put your own life and struggles into the proper perspective
We all get stressed, and in the right context, we can all slip into the trap of believing that we are unbelievably hard done by, and mistreated by fate.
While some people certainly do have a rough time in life, it’s worth realising that the average person today is better off in all sorts of ways than the vast majority of people have ever been, throughout the vast majority of human history.
Studying history shows you, very clearly, just how people from all different groups and cultures had to struggle against the elements, against each other, against disease, and against the clock itself, in order to live worthwhile lives and transcend the suffering that surrounded them.
The fact that people were, in fact, able to exist under such conditions, live out their lives, and contribute to society, is a testament to just what the human spirit can accomplish in the face of adversity.
Reading stories about this, and appreciating the significance of those stories, can really help to put your own life and struggles into proper perspective.