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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Distilled as Much as Possible

Starting Premise:
There is no God. There is no higher purpose to life. We live and die in an endless stream of evolving, interconnected organisms. We eat and will some day be eaten. There is no goal or destination. If you don't buy this premise, and have a higher purpose in life, you probably can't help me here.

There is no good reason to choose to continue living in this random, purposeless universe unless you are either able to enjoy life, or you have reasonable cause to think you will enjoy life again in the future. If you are bedbound due to a car accident, your life may be miserable, but you have a good chance to recover and enjoy life again. If you have advanced Alzheimers-related dementia, you are unlikely to enjoy life ever again.

What is the best way to maximize your enjoyment of life? Hedonism beckons, but we must also use our wisdom to make sure we don't overindulge. Enjoying everything to the maximum extent can cause hurtful consequences. For example, eating twenty cupcakes for breakfast is pleasurable, but being obese can deprive someone of the enjoyment of walking in the mountains.

And... how do we weigh our own level of happiness/satisfaction against that of others? Some methods of achieving maximum enjoyment in life may be hurtful to others. We obviously have responsibility there, as life would be far less simple if we didn't have a supportive society around us. Where would we get the breakfast cupcakes if we didn't have a complex set of social norms encouraging us to cooperate.

What is your path?



At 6/24/2008 09:16:00 PM, Blogger Diane said...

I have no fucking idea.

At 6/25/2008 08:55:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now you have done it!

Do you want to maximize the peak values or the area under the curve?
Both have something to be said for them. Also to be considered it the distinctions between enjoyment, pleasure and satisfaction.

For peak values we have extreme sports like skiing, body surfing, Rock climbing, mountain biking, motorcycling (off road), softball, basketball, etc. The euphoria that comes with surviving a near death or a perceived near death experience completely unharmed is hard to match. Sometimes just surviving at all is hard to match. These sorts of endeavors are memorable long after the fact. At some point you will realize that you are not getting any better at this stuff and that you have accumulated enough memories of that sort of thing. This is not a bad thing, just be sure that you have other less active interests to take up the slack (reading, knitting, art, woodworking, cooking, and drama are just a few that come to mind.) The more participatory of these can be very rewarding.

Then we have day to day existence, certainly we do not want this to be too much of a drag. In fact it needs to be enjoyable. To be enjoyable most of us need to be in some sort of harmony with the world. I.E. the neighbors do not hate us, we like our surroundings, we have good friends that are supportive of us, etc. So, good food, good friends, pleasant surroundings, and a job that we enjoy are all important. Sometimes day to day existence can give us experiences that are long term memorable as well. These are not to be undervalued.

Investments that pay off:
Education, by this I mean the pursuit of knowledge and not necessarily degrees. I.E. John's lock picking and cooking skills.
Relationships, these are not to be undervalued and are worth serious effort.
Eating a healthy diet
Not smoking
Not drinking
Not doing drugs.

The last five have to do with taking care of your health. Most rich people say they would give it all up if they could have their health back. So when you decide to go rock climbing (or whatever) consider the health risks.
The last three are also a complete waste of resources and the last two certainly can destroy you life in any number of ways.

If you have an addiction problem with either of the last two consider getting some help. Trying to solve these problems alone can be hard/impossible.

Another rant:
Limit your exposure to advertising. It works and it is everywhere constantly trying to sell you something that you do not need, in particular on television and radio which have become great wastelands of advertising and political propaganda. So here is a vote for Public Broadcasting. (Of course if you enjoy Countdown I understand.:-)

At 6/26/2008 02:45:00 PM, Blogger Olaiya said...

Who is the great proliferator of sagacious advice known only as "anonymous"? His or her advice seems pretty spot on, in any case.

And the comment on deciding if you want to maximize peak values or the area under the curve is quite thought-provoking. I think I'd have to go for the area under the curve, though I suspect that might be because I am of the female persuasion and possibly becaue I'm no longer in my 20s. I'd be interested to see an informal poll on the matter to see how it breaks down...

Also, on a more philisophical level, is hedonist pleasure really related to happiness or, as you phrased it, "enjoyment of life"? It always seemed to me that it wasn't. Or at least not what I think of as true hedonism--indulging all one's appetites to the maximum. It seems to me that, in all areas of life, one needs lean times (loss, sadness, hunger, loneliness) to a) savor the flush times and b) connect to one's humanity. Or is that just quasi-buddhist mumbo-jumbo designed to make us feel better about the times when life sucks? Instinctively, I feel that it's not, but wonder what the rest of you are thinking.

At 6/26/2008 07:43:00 PM, Blogger Jon said...

Funny how serendipitous life can seem sometimes - I was speaking with Walter recently and recommended the following book: The Feeling Buddha by David Brazier that might be worth a look at it if you are interested.

At 6/27/2008 01:08:00 PM, Blogger lowcoolant said...

You've kind of answered your own question - the best way to maximize your enjoyment of life is to have as much fun as possible without killing yourself or hurting others.

If hurting yourself yields pleasure, then hurt away.

Your second question makes no sense to me - how do we weigh our own happiness against others? I have no idea. Who cares about this? Anyone seeking such measurements is asking for unhappiness.

My path is whatever is behind me. It doesn't exist past right now.

At 6/27/2008 07:15:00 PM, Blogger Yojimbo_5 said...

There is no God. What does that have to do with leading a "good" (to each his own) life? While some feel the need to use "God the Concept" as an excuse to lead a "Good" life (Be it Reward in Heaven or Papa Spank), I think it best to live as if there is no God, and use my own moral compass for how I should live my life when the choices are mine to make (barring death, tragedy, divorce and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is err to).

A purpose and a schedule for said purpose (hopefully more than one) are a great help to finding a path, a muse, an inspiration. Nothing has ever been accomplished just sittin' around waiting for things to happen. You have to start. And the paths and choices will present themselves.

I'd read some Jefferson--read the Jefferson/Adams letters--the whole idea of the country to Jefferson's view was that people would do for themselves--if there was a need, they'd learn it and make themselves a multi-skilled, self-actualized person independent of the State. That's not a bad model to start from because it supposes that You Can Do Anything.

And you don't need no God's permission (or anybody's) to start.

At 6/28/2008 02:04:00 PM, Blogger Pam said...

There is this idea that happiness is the be-all end-all. It's in the Constitution after-all!! But happiness is a comparison term. You have to have unhappy to know happy, like you have to have dark to know light. If you were happy all the time you wouldn't call it happy; it would be everyday or average or normal or blah.

Some studies show that the one consistent criteria for what people call happy (or not unhappy) is having friends, which you have in abundance John. Gosh darn it, people like you! smile So you've got friends and you want to maximize the good feelings. Be a good friend, and most of the time you will at least be happy enough. I think over our lifespan, we are really unhappy, sad, miserable about 20%of the time; very very happy, euphoric, filled with joy about 20% and the rest we slide back and forth between pretty good and kinda blue.

Along with friends, having something to do, some purpose seems to be necessary too, as Jimbo said. I don't know about happy, but it makes our very very very insignicant existence meaningful. And this comes round to the no god premise. Having a god implies that even misery will be changed someday in the great by and by. Nah. This is it.

Just a personal thought, but children, especially your own, really bring great gobs of joy to your life. Mine do, even when other things are darkkkk and even when they are being little snots.

Remember, that the wind needs the trees to blow through, like the moon needs poetry.


At 6/30/2008 01:37:00 AM, Blogger If you can't tell, my name is Bob. said...

I don't know...but hitting home runs feels damn good.

At 6/30/2008 11:44:00 AM, Blogger John said...

Anonymous poster #2 (my sneaky father),

Great question re: peak values or total "area under the curve". I agree that when I was younger, "peak values" were important. As I've aged, I'm more inclined to think about my overall happiness quotient. And it has a lot more to do with my day-to-day and work-week than it does my weekend warrior activities. My original question came from the realization that weekend "peak experiences" aren't enough. In order to be happy with life, I need a fulfilling job, good relationships all around me, a sense of home, craft and sports-related hobbies, and a sense of doing something good in the world.

I'm ambivalent about hedonism... I certainly wouldn't endorse it in the manner practiced by the Marquis de Sade. I am interested in people who have returned to a tempered sense of hedonism after rejecting the sterility of the 50's utopia and the Victorian/Protestant aesthetic. Perhaps, "sensualist" is a better word than "hedonist"?

At 6/30/2008 11:48:00 AM, Blogger John said...

Jon and Yojimbo,
Thanks for the reading suggestions. I never would have expected to find wisdom on this topic from Thomas Jefferson's political writings!

Low Coolant,
Isn't it possible that your path (which is behind you) offers clues into your character that can help predict how you'll act in the future? And isn't that self-knowledge helpful?

At 6/30/2008 11:53:00 AM, Blogger John said...

Pam, thanks for the supportive thoughts. We are much like dogs. We operate best in packs. Alone, we become more and more insane, unable to accurately judge our behavior or our experiences. Isolation also breeds increasing depression. We need healthy relationships around us to avoid the fate of Carl Jung... who apparently had to put notes on his mirror to remind himself of who he was in his late life.

At 6/30/2008 01:41:00 PM, Blogger Walaka said...

Man, I was just checking in to see what you had for lunch...

At 6/30/2008 03:18:00 PM, Blogger lowcoolant said...

"Isn't it possible that your path (which is behind you) offers clues into your character that can help predict how you'll act in the future? And isn't that self-knowledge helpful?"

Yes that self-knowledge is helpful. We're interpreting the question "what is your path?" differently. By "path" I'm now guessing that you meant "outlook on life" rather than "where are you going?"

At 7/01/2008 12:00:00 PM, Blogger John said...

But Low Coolant, doesn't your "outlook on life" determine "where you are going"?

Also, I just stumbled upon this quote which might illuminate my problem... my hedonism is hampered by my cynicism:

"The indignant man, he who perpetually tears and lacerates himself with his own teeth (or, in place of himself, the world, God, or society), may indeed, morally speaking, stand higher than the laughing and self-satisfied satyr, but in every other sense he is the more ordinary, more indifferent, and less instructive case. And no one is such a liar as the indignant man." - Nietsche

At 7/01/2008 04:41:00 PM, Blogger lowcoolant said...

No. I don't see any relationship between my porch and my path, or my perception and reality.

Und becows I belief in nah-sing, I dun't belief you misspelled Nietzsche!

At 7/02/2008 04:14:00 PM, Blogger Sachet said...

Just decided to add my 2 cents after realizing last weekend that thinking too much takes me away from what is important, valuable and accessible to the here and now.

Despite the struggles inherent to migration, my life as an expatriate has helped me to grow enormously and continues to. It helps me to better appreciate and value what I had. I realized this when I had already left Seattle but for this next step I hope to finally have learned another lesson.

I do agree that quality friends deeply enhance our sense of happiness. The bonding and sharing experience with close friends is one of the most beautiful gifts that life has given us. However, it is like a garden. You need to take care of it on a regular basis to make it grow and flourish. I get really sad when I realized how many wonderful people I left behind. I again have to rebuild special bonds with others, which will contribute to find a sense of belonging and, hence, happiness.

I often wonder if I will always be unsatisfied. This feeling is of course deeply detrimental to my search of happiness and feeling fulfilled. I’m getting tired to have this on going feeling and I hope to finally learn to better enjoy what I have instead of what I don’t have.

Finding a meaningful job is also crucial for me. However, I get highly frustrated with the politics of every place I have worked at and I feel like even in social services, where I was expecting finding common values and ethics with other professionals, has become a utopia. I’m not sure if healthy working places still exist, not even in Canada! I realize that I have to compromise and shift some priorities if I want to continue helping others as a profession. I’m still working on deciding what type of compromises I’m willing to make and it may be an on going life process.

I believe that the key is to surround ourselves with friends who share similar values and create a community that will help us keep our sanity with this crazy world that we live in. Knowing you, John, and most of your friends, I think that you have been very successful at doing it! I’m grateful to have had the privilege to share some great times with many of you.

Finally, I believe that as hard as it is to admit there is no perfect situation. Therefore, we constantly need to remind ourselves to appreciate what we have until it is too late…

Voilà my little rambling ;)


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