Looking for Heffalumps: life lessons from Winnie the Pooh

in Potpourri by

Milne photo 175All of us want an exciting name all to ourselves. Even stuffed bears from Harrod’s in London, who started out life as Edward Bear under the trusted care of one Christopher Robin. And so Edward became Pooh and Pooh became legend. There are few symbols of childhood as universally recognizable as Winnie the Pooh and his posse from the Hundred Acre Wood. And today the gang’s creator, A. A. Milne, turns a whopping 134 years old. As Pooh would say, “many happy returns of the day.” Between 1924 and 1928, Milne wrote four collections featuring Pooh and friends, many of the titles as indelible today as they were in the roaring twenties: When We Were Young (1924), Winnie-the-Pooh (1926), Now We Are Six (1927), and The House at Pooh Corner (1928). But all those stories we read and heard as children about the intrepid Christopher Robin and his band of furry followers don’t stop having meaning just because we are no longer six.

In fact, Winnie the Pooh offers numerous valuable lessons for our adult lives. Here are five (and then Pooh requests a break for lunch):

1.  We’re Not All Geniuses and That’s Okay.

As Piglet tells it, “some have brains, and some don’t.” Sometimes what the situation calls for is a kind-hearted bear who might not ace the SAT but devises a clever-sounding (if ultimately futile) plan to get honey from bees. And sometimes a fair amount of wits is required. What’s most amazing is that the best plans are executed with the heart and brain working together.

2.  In One Way or Another, We All Like Hearing About Ourselves

Pooh book cover 175Listen, Pooh would be the first one to admit that he’s a fan of bear-centric fiction. Christopher Robin patiently explains to his father before the stories begin that the ones Pooh likes best are “about himself. Because he’s that sort of Bear.” We’re all that sort of Bear, aren’t we? Just look at the plethora of methods that the Internet provides us to share and connect with friends (Facebook), expound on the meaning of our lives in 140 characters or less (Twitter), and share photographs of our most treasured possessions (Instagram). When we were young—six, perhaps—we heard the stories of Pooh. Now we return the favor and tell our own.

3.  Eating Less Honey is the Key to Weight Loss

Winnie the Pooh stuck 200Whether you’re a bear or a person, a little pudginess can be difficult to shed. Sometimes it’s society that makes us try and fit into unrealistic shapes, squeeze ourselves into fictions impossible to attain. But sometimes it’s really all about the honey and getting stuck in your own version of Rabbit’s front door. Pooh might not agree about cutting down on honey but he’d always advise you, if pound-shedding is in your future, to read “a Sustaining Book, such as would help and comfort a Wedged Bear in Great Tightness.” And isn’t that the best kind of book anyway?

4.  We’re All Chasing Our Own Heffalumps (Or Woozles)

Pooh and Piglet b&w 200Sometimes, the very thing we’re chasing is ourselves and only when someone else points out that we’ve been going in circles, following our own paw-marks, er, footprints, do we realize it. But just like the shadowy existence of Woozles (“sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t. You never can tell with paw-marks”), we’re always chasing something. And the chasing, not the catching is the point. We can dig our Very Deep Pits to catch our Heffalumps and sometimes that might work. But the most important thing is the “Expotition.” Especially to the North Pole, because that’s “just a thing you discover.”

5.  Helping Friends, Even Morose Ones, is Good for the Soul

Pooh and Eeyore 200 Excepting lunch, coming to the aid of a friend in need is the best thing in the world. Sometimes your clever friends need help, despite their cleverness. And sometimes the best help, the most important help, is the kind you give your dejected friends who just want a simple birthday party. It isn’t about the present—though consider which friends would really appreciate a honey pot and a deflated balloon—it’s about the fact that you care. Because, as Milne says in his book dedication:


Hand in hand we come

Christopher Robin and I

To lay this book in your lap.

Say you’re surprised?

Say you like it?

Say it’s just what you wanted?

Because it’s yours—

Because we love you.


Happy birthday, Mr. Milne. We wish you many happy returns of the day and hope that somewhere you’re enjoying a cake with icing on top, candles, and your name in pink sugar.

Jordan is a freelance writer living in Portland, Oregon, after spending six years in NYC for college and graduate school (where she earned her MFA in Fiction Writing from Columbia) before realizing that her heart belonged in the Pacific Northwest. She (hopefully) puts that degree to good use writing for BookTrib and Publishers Weekly about the vast quantity of books she reads. While Jordan’s literary diet is largely crime fiction—as she was raised, often literally, in Portland’s only mystery bookstore—she’s perfectly content to read novels and nonfiction that lack a murder because good writing transcends labels. Follow her on Twitter @jordanfoster13.

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