We are programmed to find comfort. It’s natural. We seek pleasure and avoid pain because that’s what our brain is trained to do, through years and years of evolution. Putting ourselves through exhaustive or exertive circumstances is a fight against ourselves. Everything our brain has been programmed to search for savagely is at hand-food, water and (potentially) sex. It’s easy to sink into a state of doing nothing, since all our needs, says our brain, are fulfilled, and so we don’t need to do anything else. Our brains are right, but they’re also wrong. All our survival needs are met, but that does not mean we, as people, are satisfied. The things which we want to achieve are usually hard work to attain, and this involves a battle between your will and what your brain wants. Your brain wants comfort and pleasure, but you want to push yourself, to experience hardship now for the sake of gain later. This is what you must do then-fight yourself. Battle against your brain’s instincts and if your will is strong enough, you will win.
The opinion of others is something that is usually heralded as crucially important to any sane person, and what others think about us has become the reason for acting in certain ways-for getting that job, for posting that photo on Instagram, for buying that car, or for keeping quiet when we should speak up. We value others’ opinions highly, and what other people will think about us influences our decisions heavily. It’s not that other people’s opinions do not matter (they do), but it may be the case that we value what other people think too highly. It is a problem when we do not act in the way we should or the way we truly want because we fear what other people will think. It is a problem when we act solely so that people will think good of us, regardless of what we genuinely want to do. We make the mistake that if people have a good opinion of us, our power will increase, as will our satisfaction. This kind of deluded thinking has the opposite effect, since relying on the external for power and satisfaction usually means the opposite occurs, since most people do not care what you think or do. With this kind of thinking, whether we are satisfied is up to other people-we are completely powerless. Acting how you think you should, and realising true power comes only from within will result in more control, and, most likely, more satisfaction. We need to stop caring about what other people think. It makes us powerless and weak, stopping us from speaking when we should, doing what we truly want, and being the person we want to be. Ceasing to care what others think will result in liberation-liberation from anxiety, as well as liberation from the mask that we all wear around each other, a mask that prevents us from being ourselves. Take off the mask, and be free.
Aristotle was a pupil of Plato, the teacher of Alexander the Great, and he wrote extensively on many various subjects, including logic, biology, music and rhetoric. Aristotle’s work on logic was a great foundation for human logic, and the work he recorded was the work used by philosophers who lived thousands of years on, such as Immanuel Kant. Aristotle’s logic is based on the syllogism, which is, at its simplest, one conclusion from two premises:
P1 All men are mortal.
P2 Socrates is a man.
C Socrates is mortal.
This is deductive logic, and if one accepts both the premises, then one must accept the conclusion that follows. To therefore attack the conclusion, one must attack the premises. There is so much that one could potentially say about Aristotle, so I will mention only a couple of his key ideas.
Aristotle believed that everything has a nature and a ‘telos‘ (end or goal) to fulfil. His idea was that ‘essence precedes existence’-something’s nature is defined before it exists. He argued that, like all other beings, humans also have a nature and a telos. For Aristotle this was eudaimonia, or flourishing, and this is attained by using all one’s talents and becoming balanced through the golden mean, avoiding excess and deficiency. To attain this, we should enhance our practical reasoning as well as our intellect. ‘What is the meaning of life?’ Aristotle asked himself, to which he answered, ‘To do good and serve others.’
Aristotle had a certain idea of excellence, and it was that it is attained through training and habituation. Like all virtues, Aristotle believed that to become excellent took time, and required consistency and balance-we cannot hope to be something if we only act in that way rarely. Rather, we should act that way as much as we can, and through this repetition we will train ourselves to become what that virtue is.
The influence of Aristotle is magnanimous. He influenced many, including Thomas Aquinas, Martin Heidegger and Immanuel Kant. To the foundations of logic and to the influential ethical and political theory we owe Aristotle a great deal.
Everybody says they want to be free. In the west, freedom is a value which is viciously fought for and supported, yet the freedom we talk of so highly is, in practice, not so sought after as it may at first seem. All around us are things which tells us what to think in the form of advertising, telling us that this is what makes you happy, this is what makes you feel free. The feeds of social media are also places of a certain slavery, in which we are told what to think, who to follow and how to think. The television, our phones, our shopping centres, all of these are places proclaiming and heralding false freedom. These are mediums which tell us-‘look here, if you do this, buy this, watch this, you’ll be free and you’ll be happy’. We consequently believe them and gradually we become hooked on these actions, and what we once thought would make us free now holds us down as a slave caught in an addiction. We say we want freedom, but the way we act suggests we desire quite the opposite. Another form of this rejection of freedom seems to be religion, an organization which likewise says that following the religion will lead to some form of happiness and freedom, be it redemption, salvation or satisfaction. The problem with both of these is that they are things outside of ourselves-they are external to us. We make the fundamental mistake of thinking that freedom will come from something out in the world, when in fact genuine freedom comes from the internal-within yourself. It may come in the form of detachment or the recognition of what is in your control and what is not or the way in which you prepare for and deal with loss and suffering, because once we find a fool proof way of dealing with suffering, then true satisfaction can come, and the only way that works effectively at all is in your own mind. I can’t just tell you this. The only way is to discover this for yourself. And why is it that we fear freedom so much? Because of the responsibility it brings, the unknowns it will show, and the fear of becoming lost. Yet, if we prepare ourselves, we can find freedom, within ourselves, and from there recognise that we will not become lost but we will rather find something worthwhile and good.
We always ask ourselves how we should live, how we should act and what we should do with our time. Rarely, if ever, do we find a right answer. It’s one of those questions which we can’t just look up online or find in a book. Yes, other people can tell us how to live, but that doesn’t mean that’s how we should live. Is there, then, any way of finding a right answer?
Many things can be used as examples which tell us how to live: advertising, the Bible, various philosophies of life. Yet are they correct? In some places we may find right answers, but not the right answer. The external may be able to help us recognise the truth about how to treat others and act in certain situations, but the fundamental thing is that each recognition comes from within you. It has to be you who accepts what you read or watch, and as soon as you do, it has become part of your way of life. It is part of your theory of ‘how to live’. As we constantly go through life from one second to the next, we are not only living but also simultaneously acting out how we believe we should live. The answers do not come from the external, they come from the internal, and from the reflection of our own life as we have lived it so far. Sartre is right in the sense that one cannot say to another ‘this is how to live’, yet I believe that how we should live has been figured out, by ourselves, for ourselves and for ourselves only. Only you yourself can truly figure out how you should live. Christopher Hitchens used the example of Socrates’ inner daemon– a guiding, internal voice. Perhaps the only way we can ever know we should live is to listen to this daemon, and to review how we act in certain situations. How we act in a certain situation reflects our thoughts on what we should have done in that certain situation. There are no variables here, and what we do is what we think we should do at that moment, even if in retrospect we realise we should have done something different. To figure out how to live, first, we must live. It is up to yourself, nobody else. There is no right answer, only right answers, and as long as we truly listen to ourselves, to our inner voice, we will know how to live.
Time is constant, or at least the human sense of time is. Time, for ourselves, is also limited. There is only so much designated time left for us before we die. There are X many minutes left before you no longer exist, Y many hours, and Z many days. However much is left, it is limited, and soon enough it will be gone and the sand in your timer of life will run out. In the perspective of the universe, the time we as individuals have is minute, just a blip of life in the great line of existence. For us, life can, at times, feel long and drawn out, while at others it can feel painfully short, and we are left wondering where the time went. Moreover, time won’t hang around for us. Rain or shine, time continues. Time is indifferent to our problems, just like the universe. Time inevitably causes change. In fact, one could perhaps define time as change. Nevertheless, change is unpreventable. What life boils down to, then, is how we use our time, and how we change. We can use the time well and change for the better, or we can use it badly and change for the worse.
Everything passes. Your life has come, and soon it will go. Reminding ourselves of the temporality of our situation can help us enormously, since we realize that if the times are good, we should savour them and experience them as best we can while they are still around. As for the bad, it will pass. Constantly reminding ourselves of the temporal nature of ourselves is key to influencing the change we want to see, be it in the world or in ourselves. Further, time tells us we are mortal, that we don’t have long before we can’t change anything simply because we won’t be anymore.
Life is about using your time as best you can. You must use the time left to create the change you want to see, but remember, time will never wait around for you. If you’re doing what you really want, why are you doing it? Or is it that you secretly want to ‘waste’ your time? If you want to write a book, you’ve got to start now. If you want to start a business, you’ve got to plan now. The simple reason is that the only time is the time of now. The present is the only thing that will help you change anything, so use it, while you still can.
What are you waiting for?
The Greek word eudaimonia (εὐδαιμονία) is usually translated as ‘flourishing’ or ‘welfare’. This was, to Aristotle, the highest good (summum bonum). But how, especially today, can we reach this highest good?
Aristotle linked eudaimonia with virtue (here meaning ‘excellence’) and reason. For him, eudaimonia entailed virtue and activity, particularly intellectually stimulating activity, since Aristotle believed that reason (logos) is unique to humankind. Of course, however, activity can be mental or physical, since there is practical reason as well as mental reason. Virtue is, for Aristotle, necessary to attain eudaimonia, yet is not enough, since activity of some kind must be involved which attains success by virtuous means. There are, however, other things that appear to be depended on if one desires to achieve eudaimonia. These are goods external to oneself, such as friendship and beauty, and Aristotle would doubt that eudaimonia could truly be achieved without these kinds of external goods, which means that attainment of ‘flourishing’ seems to involve, to some extent, an element of luck.
How can we apply this to our life today? C. D. Ryff defined eudaimonia with six parts:
- Self acceptance
- Personal growth
- Purpose in life
- Environmental mastery
- Positive relations with others
Not only must be at one with ourselves, we must have good relationships with others. Of course, a definite purpose is necessary, otherwise we will find ourselves wandering around aimlessly as if in a dark room. It is no doubt the case that although we rely on personal circumstances, it is up to us to attain eudaimonia. If we want it, we must concentrate on what we must do to get it, and discover for ourselves what we must implement and what we must remove from our lives.
It’s hard to face the fact that the time we exist on earth will not enable us to do all the things that we may want to do. For some of us, perhaps this is the case, but for most of us, there are many various things which we would like to do with our lives yet do not have time for, or we just aren’t able to do them because of the packed and full lives we already lead. This is not easy accept, yet it is a reality which must be faced. Life is not short, it is long compared to a lot of animals, and we do have time to dedicate ourselves to certain vocations. It just depends on what those things are. Recognising that we will not be able to do everything we would have hoped to will allow us to realistically and rationally decide what it is that we are going to do with our life. Decide what it is you want to do, then, if you can, do what it takes to get where you want. If we all wanted something bad enough, we could get there and attain our goal. It’s not really about the brevity of time, it’s about the use of that time. If there’s something out there which you have consciously and determinedly decided to pursue, all that’s left to do is to pursue it. If you believe that pursuit is truly worthwhile, very little will stop you. If you can’t do it because of little things such as wanting more sleep or watching more TV, then you don’t really want it. First and foremost, people get where they are because that is they wanted. It all depends on what you want, and how much you want it.
For true fulfilment, for genuine satisfaction, there is no easy way. Nothing worth having comes easily. We all know this, but this isn’t the point. It’s not that we don’t know it, it’s that we’re too prone to forgetting it. We need constant reminders of what we know and the ideas and beliefs that drive us need to be refreshed often to keep us going. It would help if, every day, we took just a little time to stop and to reaffirm to ourselves why we are doing what we are doing with our one life. We want things to come easily. We are impatient and easily fall down before instant gratification. Deep down, though, we know that in the long run, it just isn’t worth it. Perhaps the only way to keep our path as straight as possible is to remind ourselves why we should continue. If you genuinely want something, if you really want to become a different person or achieve a goal, then you will persevere. There will be times of failure, but we should never ever give up. It may require what feels like extortionate amounts of sacrifice but it will be worth it. Yet first, we must remember that for even a small glimpse of heaven, we must delve deep into hell first.
Art is many things. It can inspire, comfort, transform. Art enables man to transform his essence. Christian Morgenstern said that ‘in every work of art, the artist himself is present’ and I believe this to be true. In the music of Mozart we are able to gain an insight into the intense feelings, doubts and frustrations of a musical genius, in the paintings of van Gogh we are thrown into a world of madness, pain and, again, majestic skill. At times, art can satisfactorily express emotions which words cannot.
Through art, Mozart, Bach, da Vinci, Ovid, Homer, and numerous other writers, musicians, poets and painters, became immortal. Although they were all inevitably destined for death, they were able to live forever, not in body or mind, but in spirit. Each person’s art allows a glimpse of that persons life. Not only does art satisfy and gratify the spectators, but it also satisfies the creators themselves. Art, it seems, is created because of some dissatisfaction or some feeling of emptiness that can only be filled by something creative. Many writers have expressed some belief of this sort, saying that ‘art never comes from happiness’ (Chuck Palahniuk) or ‘art is to console those who are broken by life’ (van Gogh). Art can, if we allow, assume a form of catharsis. To the artist himself, art is a means to expressing the inexpressible, to the spectator, art indicates that the feelings of loneliness, doubt, fear, inadequacy, anxiety, and depression are not exclusive to the spectator alone, and that art can be used to channel these feelings. As Thomas Merton said, ‘art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.’
We live in a society full of art. Music is available at a few clicks of a button, is played in supermarkets, restaurants, in transport, and in many other public and private spaces. Moreover, paintings are widely available to view and poetry and writings are at hand in many, many places. We have, thankfully, recognised its importance and its benefit to mankind. For art may be, at times, the only thing that keeps a man sane.