These Xmas gifts are SOOO 10 days ago
My friend James recently lent me A Guide to the Good Life, which explores Stoicism at a more accessible level than delving into the translated versions of Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Epictetus and others. This school of thought has flourished for millennia because there is great value in it. But similar to the difficulty I find focusing on Shakespeare when reading it, I can say the same about stoic philosophy.
One term discussed early on is hedonism: "the theory that pleasure (in the sense of the satisfaction of desires) is the highest good and proper aim of human life". But the pursuit of pleasure when done outside the right mindset creates an emotion I certainly relate to. The [pair of leather shoes] I was eyeing for a couple weeks and finally broke down and bought knowing they'd freshen up my wardrobe began looking a little stale themselves. Its not just shoes either, its the car I got 15 months ago and my new-ish chef knives. Once we as humans have something in our possession, it begins walking the path of becoming part of our status quo. The knives "don't cut as well as I thought" or "I really should get a bread knife to complete my set" or "I knew I should've purchased Wusthof instead of J.A. Henckel."
What I have is just yesterday's news and its "on to the next one"
Disclaimer: despite making an example of this song, I think its fantastic.
Hedonic adaptation is a term which captures the sensation of what we previously coveted becoming old news. Now that the stoics have helped point out how hedonistic I am in my pursuit of pleasure and my guilt is riding high, do they have any suggestions on how to contain my pleasure and consumer-driven self?
In a simplistic yet interesting turn of phrase, the author explains all stoics agree, "one wonderful way to tame our tendency to always want more is to persuade ourselves to want the things we already have." Interesting. But how does one want what he already has? The key apparently lies in negative visualization. By spending time imagining we have lost the things we value: friendships, family, love, houses, cars, stamp collections, etc. we may begin to regain the value we previously held for them.
Last night I found myself feeling impatient to get out of the yoga studio and cut a conversation short. Negative visualization, fresh in my mind, came up as I drove home. Had I thought about this at the time, would I have been so abrupt? What if I don't ever see that person again? I felt selfish yet overwhelmed by the endless number of situations that might be my last. If I am to picture losing everything regularly, will I ever get anything done or will I be paralyzed by fear of loss?
The author states, "when the stoics counsel us to live each day as if it is our last, their goal is not to change our activities but to change our state of mind as we carry out those activities." This suggests to me I shouldn't have hung out with the person indefinitely, only to have been more grateful for those moments rather than feeling impatient.
So if you're feeling a little flustered post-holidays as you get back to the grind of life, just remember you could lose it all today and suddenly you might feel a little better about all you have to be grateful for :)
Go Forth Boldly
p.s. other things that came to mind while writing this
Negative visualization ties in well with the Loss Aversion theory from Daniel Kahneman
Bhutan is rated as one of the happiest countries on the planet. They spend a lot of time contemplating death
Read the eulogy I wrote about my own death a couple years back