Satisfaction Versus Happiness, And Change And Finality (#philosophy)

A theme for discussion between a good friend and I over the last couple of years has been the existence of a dichotomy between life satisfaction and life happiness. We have been debating whether there is a difference between being satisfied with life and being happy about one’s life. We have discussed whether happiness is possible, and, if so, whether it is a desirable emotional state over an extended period of time. A related idea is whether one should measure the moral quality of one’s life by the metric of happiness (ie, if I am happy, then I live a “good” life and if I am unhappy, then I live a “bad” life).

I can’t say we’ve come to any meaningful conclusions so far and part of the problem seems to be that we can’t even agree on any meaningful definitions. This probably is not a unique or original discussion but we’re not familiar with the literature on it or else skeptical about the approach of some who have made attempts. Normally I am hesitant to engage in philosophical inquiry without agreeing on terms ahead of time but this is too “meta” at this point to do anything but grope around in the dark for a place to start so I’m going to pen a few thoughts as they stand now, as they come to me.

One thing we’ve pondered is whether there is room for any negative emotions in a person who is happy. Does one have to feel and describe oneself as “happy” ALL the time, MOST of the time, A LOT of the time or just SOME of the time to honestly bear the moniker? Does being happy mean ignoring or even repressing the negative emotions one might experience (sadness, anger, disappointment)? This gets at the question of whether happiness is authentic and human– does being happy necessitate disconnecting part of your emotional apparatus and living a kind of emotional lie?

What are the necessary components of a happy person’s life? Can one be happy in poverty? In sickness? In loneliness? Can one be happy in a moment of failure, or a lifetime full of it? Can the stupid be happy? The incompetent? The mean? Are there different varieties of happy, or just one? Different qualities, or just one? Is the happiness of an accomplished, healthy adult the same as the happiness of a decrepit moron? Is a child’s happiness like an adult’s? (And is an adult’s even possible?)

Is happiness possible for everyone, or just a lucky few? Does it come with hard work and discipline or is it connected to the genetic lottery and inbred disposition? A popular idea is that everyone can find work they love that they’re passionate about, yet only few people seem to describe their jobs or careers as emotionally fulfilling. Is happiness like these wonderful jobs or social roles?

Another thing we wonder about is whether happiness comes from accomplishments and milestones, things achieved and earned or accumulated, material or otherwise, or whether happiness is an outcome of process, procedure and the act of living itself? Can one be making progress towards things one wants, without ever getting them, and be happy or does a goal need to be seized to secure happiness along with it?

My friend spent some time reading some Arthur Schopenhauer with his wife and while I haven’t read it, the synopsis I got from him is that life is a living hell and the best one can hope to do is get as far away from the flames as possible. This view of the world might seem reasonable for someone living with chronic hunger, crushing poverty or within an active war zone or communist regime. But is it a reasonable conclusion for a young couple in a major American city who are closer to joining the top 1% than the bottom 1%?

This is where the idea of happiness becomes a moral weapon. If we don’t suffer any particular hardships, but we also don’t find ourselves emotionally fulfilled by our lives, does this mean we are not happy and must compound our circumstances by heaping moral approbation on ourselves for this emotional failure? Could we allow ourselves to acknowledge we are merely satisfied with our lives and get on with living them?

I think about dying (hopefully decades from now) without happiness. Ignoring that death itself doesn’t seem to be a happy circumstance however you go about it, I wonder if reaching that point and having a final or recent thought being “I didn’t manage to achieve happiness over the course of my life” kind of takes whatever satisfaction you might have up to that point away from you at the last moment leaving you with truly nothing. Not your life, not your friends and family, not your wealth and not even a final happy thought before you blink out of existence. (For those who cherish the idea of an afterlife, what if you make it into the kingdom of heaven a moral saint but your soul is plagued by a Woody Allen-esque neurotic paranoia with regards to contentment and joy? I realize the very notion might be blasphemous or at least theologically untenable but work with me here on the existential problem I am grasping at.)

Now what if I reach my point of universal departure and I am not happy, but I am confident my life was a satisfying one? I have no major complaints, I’ve got a few things I care quite a bit about and I learned enough about those things and how I relate to them to effect some kind of meaningful impact according to my values? Should I be disappointed at that point if that was the most I could manage?

I then try to follow this logic back from my eventual time of death to my present existence. Where am I “going”? I won’t know until I get there. What if where I am “going” is where I am right now? And I am not rapturous about life, but I am not miserable?

What if not much changes between now and then? I’m about who I am, I have about what I have, I suffer no major indignities, troubles or traumas and I just keep going about the routine I am in albeit as a slightly older person with each iteration? I dream and scheme, I work toward these goals but I don’t get “there.” Can I be satisfied with a satisfying life? Or must I start chastising myself somewhere down the line for my personal stagnation? Is life that much greater if it’s characterized by greater intensity and frequency over time of a particular pattern I’m engaged in right now? Is one happiness and the other only satisfaction?

I doubt anyone would want to read a book about my life right now. He ate this. He read that. He walked the dog. I might not live a life worth retelling by the time I die, either. Is that some kind of existential problem for me?

Found On The Web: Regrets Of The Dying (#death, #life, #philosophy)

Philosophy has formal and informal definitions. Some thinkers, such as Ayn Rand, would put philosophy atop all human knowledge, saying that philosophy is antecedent to all other specialities of human inquiry and that disciplines such as physics, economics, chemistry, engineering, etc., are the children of philosophy and dependent upon its insights. Others might argue that philosophy is, formally speaking, hierarchically identical to these other disciplines.

Still others might make the claim that philosophy is, quite literally, just a love of knowledge.

I can see the merit in all of those approaches to defining and using the term “philosophy.” In a formal sense, I think I’d agree with Rand and say that philosophy is, at root, the dedicated, organized and disciplined search for the truth of reality and so in that sense it not only subsumes all other sub-disciplines of inquiry but it is those disciplines and they are it.

Informally, I see the connection between philosophy and the living of life (what some might refer to specifically as ethics) as that of living a life that is most consistent with and deferential to that truth of reality that we are able to unveil. In an individual sense, philosophy is about not only living the good life but living a good life– focusing one’s effort on consistently doing the right thing in any given situation.

We are social creatures by nature, it has been said, and while this empirically seems to be true many people seem to ignore the most important social relationship any of us will ever have, that being our relationship with ourselves.

My personal research and study on the topic of self-esteem (relationship with self) has led me to the conclusion that this is an under-appreciated and misunderstood aspect of philosophy that is routinely ignored by most of the population of the planet in one manner or another. Few people seem to understand the critical need for self-esteem, the necessity of nurturing healthy self-esteem through concerted and disciplined practice much as we practice good physical health through nutrition and exercise based upon best principles, and fewer still have managed to master this process and conquer their own self-esteem issues. Most are unaware they have self-esteem issues, or are aware that something is amiss but are either too fearful or too overwhelmed by the task to attempt to make inroads.

Similarly, many have no idea as to how self-esteem ties to issues individuals have with other individuals and the damaging, magnified ripple effects an injured self-esteem untended to can have on society as a whole.

With this as an introduction, I wanted to share five “Regrets of the Dying” I found linked to at another investor’s blog (of all places). I found the five regrets to be confirming anecdotes in terms of specific aspects of self-esteem/philosophy I have keyed in on over the last few years as being critical to living life well. All credit goes to the original author:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. 

This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.

It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.

2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.

This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.

By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.

We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.

It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It is all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.

When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.

Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.

Notes – Success & Happiness with Vance Caeser (#happiness, #success)

From a talk given by Vance Caeser
  • “To create abundance in life, you must give more than you expect to receive”
  • “How Will You Measure Your Life?” book by Clayton Christiansen
  • Your only job is to make your boss happy without losing your integrity; you are your own boss
  • High achiever definitions
    • relative position in peer group versus peers
    • quantitative measures
    • typically, top 3% of any group
    • but you can be your own judge of high achievement
  • Synonyms for success:
    • peace
    • freedom
    • helping others
    • for some it is a #
    • it’s always inside of a person; individual, diverse answers for each person
  • Leadership is based on emotional intelligence, which is built on self-awareness
  • Families based on gratitude (thankfulness, acknowledging successes, etc.) help children to grow up w/ a mindset of exploring internal happiness
  • Emotions create the drugs in our bodies; belief systems strongly conditions the kind of emotions we have, therefore beliefs lead to the drugs that are in our bodies
  • On an annual basis, review “What are the beliefs we’ve operated on in this past year?”
  • Purpose creates abundance
  • Purpose, beliefs, who we associate with, are the three keys to development of our lives and happiness
  • When life decisions aren’t working, that is the time to sit down, listen to yourself, take inventory of your beliefs, examine which ones are creating anxiety for you
  • “Some day I’m going to be happy when…” means you’ve given up on being happy today
  • “I get to do this today” vs. “I have to do this this today”, demonstrates responsibility versus victimhood mentality
  • Viktor Frankl, use your vision, see success, let it guide you through the daily clutter which will seemingly take care of itself as you focus on envisioning your success
  • Balanced life involves managing energy, not time (see HBR article)
  • Brands: distinctive, relevant, consistent
  • Relationship-building, not networking; connection, not contacts
    • knowing a name
    • knowing their story
    • earning their trust so they want to be around you, too
  • It’s really important to know what your story is, what your values are, what your role in the world is; develop your signature story, can deliver it in 10 seconds or talk about it for 2-3 hours
  • Sharing stories and looking for overlap builds trust with others
  • You can’t trust what a person does, only who they are
  • Leaders are distinguished by the fact that they have followers; leaders are followed for:
    • technical skills
    • authority, title
    • respect, reverent power
  • Cheryl Sandberg, lean-in circles, Nat Geo “blue zone” longevity studies, people with long lives join authentic communities and give to them
  • How do you deal with “poison”?
    • fear and love are our basic emotions
    • hire for character 1st, energy 2nd, competency 3rd
    • you are the CEO of your life, stay away from people committed to living in fear
    • you “hire” your boss, your friends, etc., you can pick different ones
  • It’s important to feel like you’re in charge, cultivate a free agent mentality
  • Nordstrom once encouraged its managers to seek an outside position and get a job offer once a year to give themselves options and work in that free agent spirit
  • It’s important to learn how you learn, and then only work and learn in that way
  • Great leaders are always great educators, they focus on listening to people to use their own brilliance to help them grow faster
  • You have all the answers already, the answer isn’t out there, it’s inside of you
  • Be clear on why you’re here, know why first, then how, then what
  • Have clarity about your vision so you know what you need to do to get there; you vision will serve you if it’s inspiring
  • Live a conscious life, be aware of what you do, use your heart as a scorecard, listen to your feelings
  • Do what you love, with people you love ~Steve Jobs
  • You choose your consequences, choose wisely; Stoic philosophy
  • Toltec, 4 beliefs:
    • Be impeccable with your word
    • Don’t take anything personally
    • Don’t make assumptions
    • Do your best, learn from your efforts
  • Simon Sinek, TED talks
  • Human connection is invaluable
  • Don’t bet the farm on your vision, you can have multiple visions and you can update them over time; life is the journey of moving from vision to vision, you can always have more
  • Impediments to integrating these lessons:
    • fear
    • ego-centrism
    • relying on others for answers
  • Purpose can be updated, continual growth of self, embracing one’s flaws along the way
  • For kids
    • get really clear about the life you want to live
    • talk about values
    • talk about roles you want to play
    • structure your life around these things
    • make decisions based on these criteria
  • Discover your purpose, we all have one but we have to find it
  • The questions I ask myself define my life by virtue of the answers I give
  • Examine periodically the questions you spend your time thinking about and make sure they’re the right questions to be asking

Why do we travel? 3 (#travel)

The curiosity continues.

I took a look through the archives of this blog and saw that I addressed this question somewhat when we first started writing about our travels in 2013. Some of the reasons I cited then we’re the opportunity to gain new experiences and perspectives, to learn about new foods, to practice speaking a different language and to gain exposure to different cultures and customs. That’s all fine, and those are some of the things you can accomplish on your travels, but WHY those are valuable and worth traveling for remains a question to be pondered. Here are some more thoughts.

There is something of a difference between travel and vacation. Travel implies some kind of purpose to the trip and it can be business travel or personal travel. The purpose of the vacation is to relax in a different place than your home environment. It is not necessarily to see anything or do anything in particular but to simply get away from the normal of life, wherever and whatever that might be.

How are travel and tourism related? Tourism has a very low opinion amongst people we’ve met who consider themselves “travelers”. When they think of tourism they think of your groups, tour buses, people shuttling on and off to snap a few photos of something they’re supposed to think is amazing or wonderful and then move on. There isn’t much thinking going on and the point of the exercise is maybe to get it all over with quickly so one can hurry home and show others what you saw.

Tourism also has the connotation of a logistical exercise, and involves efficiency of time. Most tourists have a short itinerary, cram too many locations, stops, transfers, etc. Into their plans and are always rushing about to be on schedule. The traveler has more of an attitude of a Flaneur, he has time to follow his fancy wherever it may lead and however long it might take to get there or accomplish it’s satisfaction. He might set out to travel for a few weeks but end up travelling for a few months.

To wit: several days ago the weather was poor and we decided the best use of our time would be to sit in a tea house across the street from our apartment and read books for several hours. We could do this at home and in fact we generally don’t (go to a tea or coffee house to read that is). This egregious use of time would be unheard of for a tourist. But for us on this travel, it was one of the more wonderful things we’ve done so far and was fully worth the time invested.

Wrapped up deeply in the idea of traveling is the notion of learning. And it is not just learning about a place or the people, it is about learning about yourself in a different way than you might if you had stayed home.

Thinking about why were traveling this time and what we hope to learn, I think one explicit question we had was “Could we imagine ourselves living in and being happy in one of these cities?” With several reservations the answer so far is yes, in fact we spent some time scheming about how we might do this in each place although we have no immediate plans and haven’t decided to cancel our flights home to stay.

Another thing were exploring is, “what’s really important to us in life? What do we feel we need more of? And less?”

Spending time “aimlessly” reading seems like something I want more of; my experience at Ozone left me confident I don’t yearn to be able to drink in the best bars in the world.

Yesterday we spent the afternoon with another of the Wolf’s friends from school, another Hong Kong native. He, too, enjoys traveling and we learned about his recent experiences and approach to travel. There were many similarities in terms of places to visit, the opportunity to learn new languages, the desire to explore a lifestyle in another place.

We also discussed routine– is it valuable to have a routine to return to, can travel fit into it, and could travel BE the routine? We all inhabit a privileged position where we have the freedom, personal and financial, to even consider such alternatives for ourselves. We also have the opportunity to think critically about our economic choices and the value of adopting a routine that involves “staring at a cubicle” for the rest of our working lives.

I thought the Wolf’s friend made a good point that I plan to dwell on further which is that, most people can not do what we are considering doing but would like to be able to do so. If you have the freedom to consider alternatives, why wouldn’t you do so? Why would you just automatically do what everyone else is doing with less freedom without thinking it through and exploring your options?

So maybe the meta answer to the question “why do we travel?” Is that travel is a means of exploring the optionality of personal freedom with the goal of finding an optimal pattern of existence for one’s remaining life.

Dressing for travel success (#clothing, #travel, #HK)

Packing for this trip seemed challenging. Southeast Asia has a subtropical climate with high average temperatures and high humidity. We knew we were likely to be uncomfortable with long sleeves and pants.

However, we also knew it might rain, and that being in short sleeves and shorts might be uncomfortable in wet weather.

From the standpoint of footwear, neither of us had anything we thought would be great to walk around in a ton, or that wouldn’t look funny with shorts. For example, we both have sandals, but would those be comfortable to traipse around in for hours in big cities? But they’d work well with shorts.

Finally we wanted to have a few light cover options in case it turned out to be cooler, and also something we could dress ourselves up slightly with in case we wanted to go somewhere more civilized than a street vendor.

Despite our best efforts, I think my packing, anyway, was a failure. The critical failure has been footwear. I brought a new (brand new) pair of Sperry leather laced moccasin style shoes in brown and a black pair of leather loafer Eccos in black. My thinking was the Sperry’s would be comfortable to walk in and would have a measure of wetproof if it rained. The Eccos I thought could be useful on light walking days or times we wanted to dress up more.

The Eccos turn out to not be a great fit. They are maybe a half size too big for me which I never noticed back home because I wear them casually and don’t walk distance in them. That extra room allowed my feet to move around quite a bit and in the humid conditions in Taipei I developed a blister on my heel about ten minutes after we started walking. I haven’t worn them since as it has rained most of the time we were in Taipei and all of the time we’ve been here in HK, plus I don’t want another blister. So that was completely wasted space and a misfire from a packing standpoint.

The Sperry’s are an interesting story. I began to break them in on dog walks for three weeks before our trip. The first few days were rough, I developed blisters from the stiff leather and my soft feet which have mostly been inside socks and well worn dress shoes since last summer. But after a week my feet had toughened up, the leather broke in slightly and they became comfortable to dog walk in and I began developing confidence they’d be good for the trip.

For the first few days in Taipei this was the case, and they were surprisingly comfortable to wear on the 13h flight over. But once it rained, the shoes became water logged after sloshing around the streets for several hours. I figured a Sperry product would be water proof or highly water resistant but that just wasn’t the case with these moccasins. The interior sole got damp and when the exterior leather dried it stiffened up considerably. I then began developing blisters on my toes as the newly stiffened leather rubbed against my feet.

Too much detail? I haven’t even started.

Here in HK it has rained both days. Our first day here we went on a walking tour around 2pm and we were out in the rain for three hours. My shoes got totally water logged and restiffened again. Today they were still not fully dry and it rained again. In several places my feet didn’t even bother blistering, they just rubbed raw and it became painful to walk, but a quick stop for bandaids at 7-11 got me through the rest of the day. But man, coming down from the top of Hong Kong island back to our apartment 1/3 of the way up was pretty brutal!

As for clothing, the shorts and t-shirts have been okay for the temperature and humidity but I think we’ve looked very grubby and casual, not like respectful visitors. Eating out at even mildly casual+ places has been a little uncomfortable because we look like people who just wandered in off he street. I’ve used one of my pullovers ONCE and it wasnt really necessary then. The pullover hoody I haven’t used at all. My rain jacket zipup has worked well for repelling rain, but it’s also worked well to trap the heat around my body so I sweat more. Not ideal.

I haven’t figured out what the solution to any of this might be in the future. Mesh synthetic cross trainers would also get waterlogged, but they might be easier to walk miles in especially with socks. An even more light weight rain shell might have been an improvement. I’d probably bring only one pair of shoes and plan to look and feel grubby. Maybe a really light pair of pants to dress it up a little without feeling uncomfortable.

But t-shirts are going to look kind of overly casual no matter what else you wear.

I think the real tough part is being out walking around so much of the day, particularly in the rain.