Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Why clear, rational preferences are essential to achieving and keeping happiness

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How would you rate your current level of happiness? If you are already experiencing the highest levels of personal satisfaction, let me congratulate you. Fact is that most people aren't. My next questions is slightly more sensitive. If you were to assume for yourself a life expectancy of 90 years, at what level of happiness are you aiming to spend the rest of your life?

Individuals who are already having a great life tend to worry about how they are going to maintain their happiness in the coming decades. In contrast, people who are rating themselves as unhappy tend to hope for a better future. The crucial question for them, of course, is how to make their dreams come true.

In any case, if achieving and keeping happiness is a long shot, it pays to aim as close as you can. How can you make sure that you are moving in the right direction? Through the years, the following three principles have helped me sharpen my focus. They may be of interest to you.

1. Clear preferences make happiness more easily attainable

People have different ideas of what it means to be happy, but this does not mean that random events possess the capacity to improve your life. More often than not, random factors will only create confusion and irritation.

Happiness is composed of specific experiences that human beings desire to have. Well-being is a positive event, something that we really wish to experience, and keep experiencing. It is a place where we want to be, and a place where we want to stay.

In this respect, I strongly encourage you to draw a detailed picture of your ambitions, so that the picture can serve you as compass while you are walking through life day after day. The sharper your picture, the better decisions you will make, and the faster you'll move in the right direction.

2. Happiness involves the avoidance of undesirable events

At the very minimum, happiness demands the postponement of death for as long as possible. What other negative elements do you need to keep away in order to stay happy? Make the list as long as you need. Pain and sickness should be amongst the first things to avert. The same goes, for most people, for poverty and discomfort.

Your compilation of negatives won't be complete until you have added names of particular individuals, or at least, identified which types of persons you dislike. The purpose of this exercise is to make you conscious of which elements you consider incompatible with happiness.

Few people are actually aware of everything they dislike. Beyond trivialities ("I don't like to eat boiled vegetables"), they won't be able to name the type of environment, physical and psychological, that they rather avoid. Again, the sharper the picture in your mind, the better you will become at steering away from unpleasant things, places and people.

3. Happiness requires a strong sense of direction

This third aspect is often overlooked. Lacking a sense of direction is the equivalent of trusting luck to make you happy. Random events might occasionally make you happy, but most of the time, they won't. If you don't know where you are going, if you don't know what you want from life, you will inevitably feel lost, vulnerable, and confused.

Clarity of purpose gives individuals targets to achieve and paths to follow. The human mind, our ability to think logically, is preeminently teleological ("teleo" means "goal" in Greek). We feel, think and act on the basis of goals that we give ourselves, on the basis of a sense of direction that we develop through experience.

Steps taken in the right direction are likely to improve the quality of your experiences, at least in the long term. Your life should flow towards your objectives, even if those objectives are as imprecise as "I like doing this" or "this is the kind of place I want to live in." Steer your days accordingly, so that you pursue specific or semi-specific goals, while at the same time, you keep negative events at bay.

Whatever your present situation, achieving and keeping a better future is going to involve steady work. Most people are able to motivate themselves for a short while, but they are quick to give up when they meet the first difficulties. Don't be one of those who can only motivate themselves for very short periods.

Draw a sharp picture of your future, as sharp as you can, and let that vision provide you with a clear, strong, steady sense of direction. Only consistent, rational ambitions can sustain the long-term motivation that allows individuals to reach the highest level of happiness.

Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com

Image: Photograph of classical painting. Photograph taken by John Vespasian, 2018.

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books   

Free subscription to The John Vespasian Letter

Here are the links to two audio interviews recently published:

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

How to face a painful loss without giving up hope for the future

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No matter how hard you work or how motivated you are, bad luck is going to hit you sooner or later. Maybe someone acting negligently or mistakenly will cause your misfortune. Maybe you will become a victim of a shift in the economy, or of some random accident. Adversity just happens.

It is not easy to recover your peace of mind when life has turned dramatically for the worse. Difficult periods will test the validity of your philosophy, and rightly so. Can your convictions help you regain serenity? Are you able to face a painful loss without giving up hope for the future?

Some psychologists recommend groundless optimism as an emotional defence against adversity. If you try out their recommendation, you will see that it doesn't work for long. In fact, you will only be wasting your time.

The human mind, for as long as it remains healthy, cannot sustain beliefs that are not anchored in reality. Self-manipulation, instead of creating joy, will only lead to bitterness, errors and confusion. Stay way from fabricated emotions.

The first step

What is the first step to improve your mood when the world seems to be falling apart? My recommendation is that you should focus on reality, and on reality only. Forget about empty positivity and gratuitous cheers because they won't do you any good.

What you need to do is to look hard at your problems, analyse and measure them. In order to recover, you first need to assess the damage, and take inventory of what you have left. An analysis of your situation should allow you to identify the real trouble, the real cause behind the adversity that has hit you. The problem might be as easily to identify as some common sickness, or the loss of a job. Or it could be an exploitative relationship or a wrong career, factors that are not so easy to detect.

Whatever the affliction, it is essential that you separate the actual problem from your emotional reaction. You worrying about bankruptcy is not the same as bankruptcy itself. Make an effort to distinguish the facts from the folklore around the facts. Unless you are in jail still for a long time, or suffering from terminal illness, you can turn around most situations. Yet, you first have to size up the problem in its real proportions.

You have to stay real, reasonable, objective. Human beings possess an innate inclination to exaggerate misfortunes. Such exaggerations will frequently grow to a ridiculous extent. Our emotions, if left unchecked, will automatically magnify our problems.

The rational response

The rational response to adversity begins with reducing difficulties to their actual size. Do not be overwhelmed by seemingly unavoidable catastrophes that might occur in the future. If you can predict a problem, chances are you can do something to solve it, or at least minimize it. Force yourself to drop exaggerated concerns, so that you can concentrate exclusively on the issues at hand.

Severe sickness is destructive and unpleasant, but you might still have many years left to enjoy life. A loss of employment or reputation will reduce your current income, but nothing prevents you from giving your career a new direction. There are countless options you can explore to rebuild your finances, reputation, and social life.

To recover your peace of mind, you don't need to become artificially optimistic. What you need to do is gain true perspective. Rationality is the path to serenity, recovery, and happiness. Can you appraise your concerns realistically, look at the next decades, and muster enough strength to shrug your shoulders? Try to say "so what?" and mean it. Chances are that you still have plenty of time to do great things in life, enjoy your days, and thrive in your chosen career. Once you get rid of exaggerated emotions, you are on your way.

Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com

Image: Photograph of classical painting. Photograph taken by John Vespasian, 2016.

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books   

Free subscription to The John Vespasian Letter

Here are the links to five audio interviews recently published: