"Believe it or not, people who study the Humanities actually live happy and successful lives.", says my English professor to a classroom full of students from various disciplines, some of whom are tired and simply waiting for this Friday afternoon class to be finished. The funny thing about his statement was not its truth, but the fact that the opposite is believed.
Another way to think about this is to consider a choice. On one side, students can be trained to make money, to use their skills to compete against one another in order to set themselves up to live lives of wealth and monetary success. Such a path is a valid way to live in the world, and with the prestige it offers, the study of human experience seems quite humble. Yet this humble path offers something usually taken for granted. This elusive, indefinite truth that the humanities seek is to explain the mess that is the human being.
In such a regard, the humanities can sound vague and frankly unwise from a financial perspective. However, to study the humanities is in itself an act of studying oneself and the nature of life in the ephemeral sense. Reading literature or listening to a song cannot explain how the heart moves blood, such knowledge is in the realm of science, however, by being open to experiences like music and fiction, one can be moved to feel and learn about the values of the soul. Of course the study of spiritual matters falls under theological authority, and is not universally accepted; but the stirring one feels at the opening notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, or the delight some find in deciphering Shakespeare's prose is the very thing sought by this study. You see, it is not about training a student to make a living, but about teaching a person how to live with themselves.
In an age defined by digital social status, the individual is confronted by hordes of peers who are intent to find meaning in an artificial world without substance. Whether these aspirants of enlightenment seek meaning from this pursuit or simply the next dopamine fix from someone liking a picture, what they seek will not be where they are looking. Meaning cannot be found in the meaningless, and genuine, lasting happiness fails without being grounded in love. Without a desire to find a purpose or to feel the blessing of selfless love, humans are doomed to a nihilistic fascination with the unraveling of the world. We become helpless observers in a world in need of actors. To put the situation in different terms, without being reminded of our better natures, people and society at large, forgets what it is to be human. We may exist, but without the passion or contentment that defines meaningful interactions in life, our existence becomes a sham. No better than the shadows of Plato's cave, we become mere distractions leading others into greater hopelessness.
The humanities exist because at some point, it was necessary to put words to the things which set us apart from beasts and machines. We need these things in order to see each other as valuable and worthy of love. We need the questions of philosophy to alert us to the status quo, we need music to express nameless feelings, and we need literature to remember the thoughts and deeds of those who have come before us as well as to set an example for others to follow. In times of change, art is louder than legislation, and if those little priceless things that define our lives are never understood and practiced, the memory of our generation will be defined by callousness and immaturity. For if we lose what makes us human, whatever is left hardly matters.
I have deviated from my initial point quite a bit, but you see, to understand why happiness and success can come from such study, it is necessary to know why these things exist in the first place. The humanities exist because we know that we are human, but we study them to stop ourselves from forgetting that. And while not every employer cares if you read Julius Caesar, what is valued is maturity. In studying the Humanities, one can learn and grow from the mistakes and triumphs of others, becoming a different person in doing so.