The Good Life

Positive psychology and what makes life worth living.

Another Morning With President Obama

Give yourself something to talk about.

Some while ago, I wrote a blog entry about the 2010 University of Michigan Commencement Address by Barack Obama. At the time, I thought that hearing a standing President speak would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. I was wrong, because he spoke in Ann Arbor on Friday, January 27, 2012, and I was among the 4000 people in attendance. This recent talk was a very good one, better in my opinion than his graduation talk because he was more energetic and at the same time more relaxed. I recognized some lines from the 2012 State of the Union Address, but he tailored his talk to the Maize-and-Blue audience, with frequent references to Wolverine quarterback Denard Robinson. More to the point, he focused on the importance of college education and the rising cost of tuition.

However, the point of this essay is not about the content of the President's speech but rather about what the occasion afforded me. It provided an adventure. I like to say that there are two things that make an experience worthwhile: having the experience itself and being able to talk about it later. In the case of President Obama's speech, like all good adventures, both criteria were well satisfied.

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The announcement that he would speak on campus occurred only a few days before the actual event, and stringent procedures for obtaining tickets were put in place. The tickets were free, but they were limited. They would be made available on a first-come basis, and only one ticket per person would be issued. Tickets would be given out at the Michigan Union, starting at 9:00 AM Thursday.

I showed up at 6:45 AM, and the line was already long. I had expected relatively few students to line up that early, but I was wrong. The vast majority of those waiting for tickets were young, with just a sprinkling of older folks like me. Maybe this younger generation isn't quite as disinterested as some in the media would have us believe.

 

Indeed, hundreds of students had been camped out in front of the Union since the evening before. The weather was cold, and a mixture of rain and snow and sleet came down on the line that snaked around campus sidewalks. But I persevered, and the longer I stood, the more determined I was to stay the course. I bonded with those before and behind me in the line, and it was fun to do so. That's why this was an adventure.

At 12:15 PM, I found my way into the warmth of the Union, where I was soon issued a ticket. I had to sign it, and my handwriting looked like that of a five-year old. No worries. Everyone's hands were frozen.

I am a child of the sixties, and back then, I stood in many a line to get tickets for rock-and-roll concerts, before the day of on-line orders. But I never stood for as long as I did on Thursday. As an adult, I have queued up to see the Sistine Chapel, the Eiffel Tower, and the Terra Cotta warriors - but never as long as I did on Thursday.

No matter. It was an adventure. And I got the ticket.

Friday morning we were advised to show up at 7:00 AM for the 9:00 AM talk by the President. I didn't get there until 8:45 AM. But I was admitted to the venue, which provided no seats except for the VIPS, which did not include me. So I was still standing. I could see the President and of course the audience, which included lots of young and energetic students as well as toddlers with their parents and members of the Michigan Marching Band. I checked out the really tall police officers, and the really serious Secret Service agents. I stared at the paramedics who assisted the two people in attendance who passed out. And I listened to the President. It was an adventure.

I write this a day later with stiff legs and an aching back. I did no work for the past two days. And I had a wonderful time. As Daniel Kahneman has told us, it is the peaks of life that we remember.

The point of this essay is to urge you to have your own adventure. Give yourself something to talk about.

I did all of this with a friend who knows me well, and she teased me by saying, "You're going to talk about this for a week." "Oh no," I objected, "I'm going to talk about this forever! It's what makes life worth living."

Christopher Peterson was professor of psychology at the University of Michigan.

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