by Dr. Christa Smith, Denver Psychologist, 80230
In 1988 Paulo Coelho wrote and allegory about following your heart. He wrote that everyone has a dream, or as he calls it, a Personal Legend. Everyone has one but not everyone pays attention to it. Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy, has chosen his profession because it allows him to travel. He doesn’t have a logical reason for this, he just wants to travel with all of his heart. As he roams he dreams of a treasure, but it’s not until he meets someone who believes in his dream and urges him to pursue it, that he decides to set out on a quest to find it. We follow him through the hills of Andalusia to the Pyramids of Egypt. Along the way he almost gives up. Sometimes we see him receiving just the help he needs, turning walls into hurdles and overcoming them. Sometimes we watch him put his heart’s desire away. But he perseveres and eventually realizes his dream.
The Alchemist is one of the best selling books in history. Bill Clinton’s daughter reportedly found it so important that she wouldn’t let her father alone until he read it. Why has it been so popular? Maybe because reading it is like finding a missing puzzle piece. It’s a story of somebody who follows his heart, who does what he longs to do, and is rewarded handsomely. The book suggests that it’s OK to follow your heart, that you should follow your heart. This is not a message we receive very often. Yet it’s a vital. Without it, life just doesn’t make sense.
Gradually or sometimes all at once we let go of our dreams. We bury what is intrinsically valuable to us for many reasons, but perhaps most of all, because it’s scary. Our dreams may seem silly, selfish, or unimportant. It’s important to respect the realities and responsibilities of life but not at the expense of our dreams. It’s important, if we want to be happy, to never turn away from what really matters.
Who we chose as a partner, what we do in our free time, and which line of work we fall into are just a few examples of opportunities to follow our hearts. Research has shown that people who have a tendency to do what is intrinsically motivating to them are happier than those who tend to follow the path of extrinsic motivation, doing what friends, family, and society tell them to do. It’s no coincidence that as a Denver psychologist I see so many depressed people who feel their lives don’t reflect what really matters to them.
The beauty of the Alchemist is that it works like a permission slip that reads, “Follow Your Heart.” It’s a pass that allows us get out of class and emerge into a world where we can be more fully human.