thinking

A question of introspection

I thought you might be bored of list posts so I thought I’d write an essay.  I’ll leave the lists for at least a few days. Deal?

Scott Young has recently asked a number of big questions on his website:

Is the ideal lifestyle designed or earned?
Should you wander the world or build a home?
Does thinking about the ideal life actually lead to living one?

Far from providing answers, these questions bring up yet more questions:

“If I think about the ideal life and it leads to one, did I design it or earn it?  How did my thinking really achieve this outcome?”
“If I wander the world and it’s an ideal for me, would I have found a different ideal had I built a home?  How do I define ‘ideal’?”
“Should I think about an ideal life, or eschew the idea altogether as a meaningless concept?  If I ignore it, will it destroy my life or make me happier?”

original photo by net_efekt

original photo by net_efekt

Too much searching for an ‘ideal’ life is dangerous.  There are only choices that are more or less satisfying.  Beyond our own choices are uncontrollable issues that we must live with one way or another.  Faced with uncontrollable changes, we still have to choose.

For example, Ben Casnocha was caught up in the recent Chile earthquake.  He was sleeping in his hotel room when the quake began and, almost amusingly, Casnocha remarks how “I had an instinct to walk over to my desk and grab my laptop. [I’m not sure what it says that my first thought was to protect my laptop, but there you go.]”

Being asleep, he didn’t know the violent shaking was an earthquake.  But he did make a quick decision, attempting to save his laptop from danger.  Faced with a sudden, uncontrollable situation, Casnocha still had to exercise whatever level of control still available to him.

What if he’d not even gone to Chile?  Does Casnocha’s experience make his life any more or less ideal? Probably not. Is he now less happy with his life decisions?  I don’t expect so.

Barbara Ehrenreich mentions the pursuit of happiness in her book, “Smile or Die: How Positive Thinking Fooled America & the World”:

“Happiness is not, of course, guaranteed even to those who are affluent, successful, and well loved. But that happiness is not the inevitable outcome of happy circumstances does not mean we can find it by journeying inward to revise our thoughts and feelings.  The threats we face are real and can be vanquished only by shaking off self-absorption and taking action in the world.  Build up the levees, get food to the hungry, find the cure, strengthen the ‘first responders’!  We will not succeed at all these things, certainly not all at once, but…we can have a good time trying.”

Ehrenreich argues that introspection alone doesn’t deliver happiness or successful choices.  It’s understandable that so many of us want to give great thought to our choices, since we only have one life.  We want our decisions to be good ones.

Therefore, a changing world and a short life means we miss out on far more than we experience. But does this matter?  I say not.  So long as we are practice proactive behaviours, we should experience enough.  Scott Young suggests we can work toward realising the goals we are most interested in by going beyond introspection and practising actualisation.

Take the choice of wandering the world or building a home; it’s an almost impossible conundrum.  I have chosen to build a home, while one of my best friends is currently travelling all over the world for the third time in a decade.  When not busy travelling, my friend was still jetting off around the globe on business.  I, on the other hand, have never worked more than a few miles away from my home.  The furthest abroad I’ve been from the UK?  France.

So I’m not a great traveller outside this country.  Yes, I’d love to visit the world, but I have a deeper love of the life I lead now.  Likewise, my friend would love to build a home, but she loves the travelling life more right now.  Our lives are far from ‘ideal’, yet it’s how we choose to live.  We’re happy with our choices so far.

photo by askthepixel

photo by askthepixel

Tim Ferriss, of “Four-Hour Workweek” fame, emphasises initial decisions as key to achieving the ideal lifestyle.  Perhaps he was just lucky with his decisions.  On the other hand, his ideas may appear to work so well because he frames the story of his life (and his decisions) so boldly.  Ferriss has discovered a personal formula for contentment that currently works for him.  Long may he live that happy life.

Scott Young is currently leaning towards wandering over home-building.  I believe that’s enough incentive to wander, because I know he thinks his choices through.  It won’t be an ‘initial’ choice; it will be an ‘interested’ choice.  This, armed with introspection and at least a bit of planning, can go a long way.

Initial choice doesn’t have to equal success.  Final choice doesn’t have to equal success for that matter.  Success doesn’t have to equal happiness.  Our struggle with choice and passion and success and introspection and anything subjective may be that that we often attempt to bring these concepts together as if they are intrinsically linked.  They certainly cross paths, but you can’t easily bring them together.  Unless you have a crowbar…

Perhaps ideal hasn’t got anything to do with perfection or the best choices.  Ideal may be simply put as a constant attempt to achieve contentment throughout life.  You could argue this is all we’re ever trying to achieve and I’m not about to argue with that.  But I would say it’s easy to lose sight of our true choices and what’s been seemingly chosen for us.

While introspection can help us consider and shape our goals, could actualisation bring us closer to implementing those goals, as Scott suggests?  If he’s right, it could be the closest we get to doing things precisely on our terms.