That one question…

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

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?

Choose

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.

One path to fulfilment

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.

On being normal

More and more often have I recently heard people telling each other they’re not ‘normal’ or asking ‘why you can’t you just be normal?’ The tone is always a slightly insulting one. The thing is, being normal is overrated. When someone says ‘be normal’, what they’re really saying is ‘be average’. Yet it shouldn’t be like this. We shouldn’t be telling each other to be normal, first because the concept of normal is a societal norm, formed by the culture we live, and the consumerist, social-media ridden society we do indeed live in is not something, I believe, to be hugely proud of. Second, because we are not normal. None of us are. However much we might like to convince ourselves that we are or can be normal, that is just not who we are, and a denial of this is, really, a denial to be truly human. This is because humans have strange thoughts, think things which would be considered to be strange or nasty or wrong. We are complex creatures with many opposing and conflicting ideas and beliefs floating around in our subconscious. We are not ‘normal’ and we never will be. We must accept this and move on. Instead of being good at being normal, we should try to become our best self. What that is, no doubt, is another question altogether.

Happiness: Utilitarianism

Happiness is hard to define. Moreover, there are many different definitions and opinions of what happiness is, and many believe happiness to be a totally subjective state, and that each person’s definition of happiness is different to the next person. Over the next few posts I will be looking at different philosophical views on happiness and pondering on what is, if there is one, the ‘best’ definition of happiness. This post will deal with the philosophy of utilitarianism.

To the utilitarian, happiness is, fundamentally, the maximization of pleasure and the minimisation of pain. Furthermore, the goal is life, says the utilitarian, is happiness, which is reached, as the founder of utilitarian thought Jeremy Bentham put it, by using your means to ‘create all the happiness you are able to create’ and to ‘remove all the misery you are able to remove.’ Pleasure is good, pain is bad. A happy life is full of pleasure, whereas a miserable one is full of pain. Bentham’s utilitarianism is called Act Utilitarianism, since each individual act is scrutinised on the basis of pleasure and pain to decide whether the act is right or wrong-the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people is what makes an act right. However, this process can lead to disastrous consequences.

John Stuart Mill built upon Bentham’s Act Utilitarianism by creating a Rule Utilitarianism which bases the rules of a society on the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. This way, Mill thought, there could be trust present in society. Moreover, Mill. unlike Bentham, distinguished between types of pleasures, arguing that there are higher (exempla gratia-reading) and lower pleasures (e.g. alcohol). Mill has received criticism for this distinction because this difference makes his theory an elitist theory, rather than a universal one. As well as this, Nietzsche attacked Mill by saying that people have different needs to be happy, and called him a ‘blockhead’ for such an ignorant generalisation.

Peter Singer, a notorious contemporary utilitarian, argued in favour of negative  preference utilitarianism, a form of utilitarianism which holds that pleasure is the absence of pain, and that happiness comes from having one’s preferences satisfied. Again, however, his views have been met with controversy and a questioning as to the genuine moral nature of his and all utilitarian thought.

Utilitarianism bases happiness on pleasure and pain. Bentham’s utilitarianism is itself generally rejected, yet Mill’s Rule utilitarianism has influenced our society to some extent, and his view that our own happiness stems from seeking the happiness of others is worth keeping in mind, since it may be that if we want to be happy, we must first want the happiness of others to occur. In this way, parts of Mill’s philosophy are selfless and Mill’s ideas of cultivating good human beings is an idea which has influenced different schools of thought and society up to the present. Singer said that ‘my interests cannot, simply because they are my own, count more than the interests of anyone else’ implying that the interests of all those concerned in a situation should be taken into account. It is difficult, however, to always know what the ‘best’ interest is in such situations. Singer has had profound effects on the idea of wealth and poverty and his book ‘Practical Ethics’ is one of the highest selling ethics books of all time. There is, though, another form of utilitarianism, that of G.E. Moore, which is ideal utilitarianism, and this denies that the goal of life is to maximise pleasure. Rather, Moore said that it is friendship and beauty that should be pursued since they are intrinsically good.

The question we must ask ourselves, it seems, is whether our goal is to maximise pleasure and minimize pain, or whether there is something else about life which is worth attaining. Yet, what is it if such a thing exists? And is it a universal goal, or do we each have our own, individual and subjective path to happiness? Is happiness even attainable? These questions will be deliberated upon in further posts.

At your funeral

Picture your funeral. What is the scene? Who is there? The chances are, you won’t exist anymore, in any form whatsoever. So, you are dead. Your life is over, forever. The question is this: what will you have wanted to achieve before this somewhat haunting event? Some people go the grave having created magnificent works of art, some have changed the lives of others, some have made the world a better place. But, for all the achievements, other things enter the graves with people, and those things are unfulfilled potential, achievements that were easily attainable if only a little more effort was put in, actions that could have been just, or calm, or rational, yet turned out to be unjust, angry, and impulsive. We should, it seems, at times ask ourselves, ‘What do I want to enter the grave with?’ Do you want to die knowing that you have squeezed every drop out of your one life, or do you want to die regretting that you didn’t put in that extra effort, that kind word, that tiny fragment of concentration? We must keep the end of our life in mind when acting now, otherwise what will we be using as our motive for choosing what we do with our lives? Perhaps if we recall to ourselves daily that one day, perhaps much sooner than we think, our funeral will occur, where we will not be present, and that people will be there who will remember us for who we were and what we did, then maybe we can act in accordance with what we truly desire, yet this, again, requires us to know ourselves, and this takes reflection, questioning, and time. We can, if we so desire, form what people will remember us for. What is it that you want to be remembered for, and what is it that you want to achieve before you die?

Change

Change is inevitable. It happens to everyone and to everything, whether we like it not. We cannot not change, yet we can influence the inevitability of such change to our benefit. If we so decide, we can either change for the better, or we can change for the worse. It is generally up to us how we influence the time passing. The things which we want to remove from our lives, such as bad habits like smoking, will only be removed if we make a full, conscious, passionate and determined to decision to become someone different. For most things that are bad for us, or that we want to remove, we can choose to remove them, as long as we have a strong enough will to do so. Moreover, things that we want to remove are more easily removed if replaced with something different, something better.

As for the majority of the things that we sometimes wish we could remove yet cannot, it is generally a matter of perspective. Changing one’s perspective may change a boring job into an interesting one, a frustrating parent into a loving one, a dull routine into a means to a long-term achievement. If one is to change one’s life, or to change one’s perspective, it is necessary, first, to reflect regularly in order to focus one’s mind on what it is that is desired, and what needs to be done to achieve that goal.

We cannot help time passing, and it will do so until we die, yet it is possible to use the time, the precious, limited time, as best we can, and to live the life that is, to ourselves, the fullest life.

What is social media for?

Social media has never been just good or just bad. It probably never will be. Nevertheless, it seems that it is becoming more detrimental both to ourselves and to those around us. The bad of social media seems to heavily outweigh the good. Perhaps the scariest thing of all is that social media may in fact be a contradiction in terms. How social is social media?

Social media is, no doubt, good and useful in some respects. It enables us to keep in touch with each other, to catch up, and to let other people know how we are doing, even if we are on the other side of the world. We can meet new people through social media, and it enables us to organise meetings and group events. Moreover, opinions, ideas, and stories can be shared, discussed, and reflected upon. Useful? Of course. Worthwhile? Definitely. But this is not all. There is another side to social media.

In a society like ours, where the good is proclaimed and heralded and the bad is repressed, it is easy to tell ourselves, and each other, how great social media is. Also, given that there are so many people on it, how could it be anything but good? It is a commonly held view that to be on social media is to be connected, is to be social, and that if you are not on it, then you are missing out.

Social media is addictive. Period. Society looks down upon addiction, yet the majority of it is active in a kind of global addiction. Why is it so addictive? It may be that social media makes us feel connected, and that feeling of being part of something may provide us with some kind of high, albeit a strange one, and so we become hooked, unable to leave our phones alone for more than a few minutes.

Social media is not real. This may be another component which hooks us so easily. Social media provides us with the opportunity to create somebody different from ourselves, who is portrayed as identical with ourselves, and to attribute desirable traits to them. Social media has become a tool to alter our image and how people view us. We are enabled to flaunt the beautiful while hiding the ugly, to reveal the interesting while ignoring the boring, and to portray perfection while repressing innate imperfection. Instagram and Snapchat in particular give us the opportunity to portray our lives in the best possible light to others. But why would we ever want to do such a thing? It may be, perhaps, because we disdain imperfection, because we want to make ourselves feel better about our own lives, and maybe even to make others feel worse about theirs. In almost every photo and post there is an implicit voice which says, ‘Beat this. Yes, this is my life, and it is more interesting than yours.’ It then becomes a constant battle, a constant conflict. It is a fight for the most likes, the most follows, the best picture, the most popular video, and the nicest comments. Surely all this conflict can only lead to anxiety, fear of missing out, and grief.

The amount of time that we now spend on social media is damaging. Not just to ourselves, as we have seen, but to those around us. The more deeply we become connected in social media, the less deeply we become connected with those around us. We prefer to spend our time in a virtual world as a virtual personality surrounded by other, virtual people, rather than spending time with real people. That is the contradiction-that we are supposed to become connected, but over time we become only alienated. For the most part, the majority of people on social media don’t care what you think, have been doing, or are up to now. There will be some, of course, but not many. The people, the real people around us, however, they care. Moreover, it is no doubt true that the deepest friendships and relationships are grounded in real life, not on social media in a virtual world.

Social media indicates a desire for power, for recognition. A large part of it is just people screaming, through the means of photos and other such things, ‘look at me! Look at how great my life is!’ We may be gradually losing the ability to keep quiet, about anything. Anything that we think may be even slightly interesting, if it is only to ourselves, we shout about to others, telling each other how good it is. Must we post about our breakfast? Our day out? Our parties? Why must we, though? Fundamentally, it may be due to ourselves. It is our sense of inadequacy, and our alienation with other people. We therefore feel that we need some kind of recognition that tells us we are worth something and that we are liked. The problem, though, is that most likes are just taps of a button, and nothing deeper. Moreover, we do not feel able to have a relationship with somebody in real life, perhaps due to our own feelings of inadequacy, and so we use social media to have a relationship with that person, even if it is as shallow as the breaths you take at night, because social media allows us to hide the flaws. But, the more we do this, the more we become out of touch with our emotions, and the more we become alienated from who we really are. All of our complex and mixed, tangled emotions boil down to an emoji face. If that is not shallow, then what is? Furthermore, the time we spend on our phones results in less time with other people, and soon enough, our closest relationship is with a robot who neither cares for, nor really knows us. It is a sad situation, but not an inescapable one.

There are parts of social media which are useful and worthwhile, but as a whole, it is hard to see how social media is genuinely social.

It seems that using social media less and less would be an ideal situation. This would enable us to become truly connected with the people whom we care about and who care about us, it may allow us to become more in touch with ourselves, with who we are, what we truly desire, and what we really feel, and it may help us to realise what really matters-real relationships, with real people.

 

Addiction and human nature

Addiction is most commonly associated with the category of drugs. But what if we all had different addictions, to different drugs? I’m not saying that we’re all secretly addicted to heroin or ketamine, because although we put these kind of substances in the group of ‘drugs’ that people take, there may be more and more drugs than we think. Are we all addicts?

Is there something which you need to get you through the day? Must you have coffee in the morning, or TV late at night? Are the Facebook and Instagram feeds your form of relief to make the day bearable? Do you have to read some of a novel to help you get work done? I’m sure everyone has some form of relief they use to get them through life. I may be wrong, but then again…

Addiction may not just be something to do with illegal or legal ‘substances’. In fact, addiction may be all around. The question is whether we are all addicted to something, something which makes the day bearable. This does not mean that addiction is wrong. What it does tell us is a key insight into human nature. If we really do need certain things to pull us through life, what is our natural state? If we are addicts, in one form or another, what is the norm without such things? It is hard to think that the state of humanity is anything but a dissatisfied one. It seems that boredom is natural to man, and that ‘happiness’, or ‘satisfaction’, is not the norm. Perhaps it is, and I am wrong, but throughout life today, the widespread use of social media, the excess of consumption in the form of clothes to the form of television seems to prove my point. We fill our lives with distractions because we are not satisfied.

It was Arthur Schopenhauer who proposed that life is a pendulum swinging ‘backward and forward between pain and boredom.’ When we are in pain, we fill it with things to relieve the pain, but after a while, we become bored of this. This is, according to Schopenhauer, how life works. Even if this is true, we must not despair. In one of my previous posts, ‘why suffering can be good’, I wrote about the usefulness of pain. Although at first we may want to immediately sedate the pain, this may not be the right choice, since it is only through suffering that we can grow as people and evolve. The most worthwhile of things are the products of hard work, sacrifice and suffering. Concluding that we are addicts at nature may help us realise two things:

  1. That it is not primarily our fault for our addictive nature-it is just the world we live in.
  2. Addiction is a way of dealing with boredom and pain. There are many various ways of dealing with this dissatisfaction, some better than others.

Rather than turning to heroine, binge-watching of television or social media feeds, we can, as Alain de Botton wrote, ‘turn pain into knowledge.’