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May 1965

On Being Serious

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Clinical Research, Eastern Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute, and Department of Psychiatry, Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania.

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1965;12(5):520-523. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1965.01720350088012

Life is real! Life is earnest! And the grave is not its goal. . .


I  PRESUMABLY there is an optimum level of seriousness* on which one should deal with life. To be a jester arouses the suspicion that one is avoiding the consequences of his intended behavior or, worse, that he is attempting to ensnare others into playing his little game.2 To be optimistic suggests that one's superego is unrealistically friendly and protective; pessimism, on the other hand, alerts to oral deprivation.1 Certainly one should be realistic, and certainly life is in reality no overall laughing matter; yet we are made uneasy by "yon Cassius" with his "lean and hungry look," we reject Milton's "Il Penseroso" as possibly dyspeptic, and we may not linger overly long before Rodin's "Thinker." Excessive seriousness is not attractive to the healthy adult.Yet some people seem to

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