5 Principles for Happiness

Unknown.jpegIt seems we are always on an unsatisfactory quest to find happiness. For all the control we have over our lives, it is disconcerting how difficult it is to find happiness. Richard Carlson’s You Can Be Happy No Matter What tells us we have been looking in the wrong place. According to Carlson, a psychotherapist, the reason why it appears this state of contentment and equanimity is so hard to find is because happiness cannot be found. Instead, he proposes happiness is always in us. To find and cultivate it, we must keep in mind five simple principles: Thinking, moods, feelings, separate realities, and being in the present.

It is incredible just how powerful thinking is. In fact, it is a little too incredible. Richard Carlson describes how we must think in order to achieve happiness. He describes the importance of reminding ourselves that we are the thinkers. How we think is merely our perception of the world. What we choose to think, be it positive or negative thoughts, is up to us. After all, we are the ones producing these thoughts. Because we are in control, we can stop thinking these thoughts with the same effort of creating them. Dwelling on these thoughts always leads to unhappiness–not what we are aiming for. Richard uses an analogy to represent this: Our thinking is gasoline, and our thoughts are mini fires. The more we think about something that causes distress, the more it grows out of our control.

Not only can our thoughts be either negative or positive, but they can also be warped depending on our moods. Low moods drastically affect our decision-making, so Carlson offers us the solution of waiting for these low moods to subside. When we are in a low mood, our judgement is unstable and unreliable. We tend to generate more serious and malicious thoughts in this mood, so it is best to keep our thoughts to ourselves. Carlson also warns us not to try and solve problems in a low mood; we will find more clarity in high moods. Conversely, when we are in our high moods, we are more amiable and sensible. It is in this mood that Richard urges us to solve our problems.

However, it can sometimes be difficult to tell when we are in a bad mood or when we are taking a turn the worst. Our feelings tell us when we do this. It is human nature to get caught up in the moment, which leads to overreaction and obstinance. It is important to listen to ourselves and be able to understand when we are upset or troubled. Feelings like envy, anger, and impatience are signs that you are in a bad mood and should try to keep things to yourself. Again, our feelings cloud us with questionable judgement. In times like these, it is best to stay quiet and wait for our moods to rise. Good feelings, on the other hand, are a sign you are doing the right thing. Keep doing whatever it is you are doing, for it is clearly working. Richard Carlson likes to think of feelings like alarms that tell us what is happening. Whenever there is a core meltdown, know that you should be skeptical of your thoughts, for they are caused by bad feelings.

The fourth principle, separate realities, explains how we should interact with others. I mentioned in the thinking principle that how we think is merely our perception of the world, so our thoughts should be treated thusly. Everything we see and how we react to our thoughts is filtered by our perceptions, and it applies to everyone else, too. How I feel about one thing can be interpreted another way by you. Consequently, we must be open-minded and willing to adapt to other’s thought systems. Thought systems are an important concept in psychology. Carlson expounds thought systems as a collection of an individual’s habitual or set thoughts, beliefs, and perspectives. Taking this into account, we often find ourselves combatting with another’s conflicting thought system. Since we do not share every belief, Richard recommends we build our tolerance to others’ thought systems. We may never adopt another’s thought system, so our only option is to understand it. Instead of criticizing someone else’s thought system, try to understand it and appreciate it. Whether it be your friend, spouse, or affiliate, understanding separate realities will come in handy.

Lastly, we can all find time for being in the present. For readers who have read my post on mindfulness, this should be familiar. Unfortunately for most of us, a majority of our time is squandered thinking about things we cannot change. Most of our thinking is torn betwixt the past and the future, two tense (pun intended) and ever-changing events that are not worth our time. We should instead be in the moment, which can be experienced, unlike the others. Once again we see the power of thinking. Focusing our energy on things we know are out of our reach is futile. Furthermore, Richard comments on the impracticality of therapy, AA, and dieting programs (not to denounce them, of course). Therapists will tell their patients to examine their pasts, AA members are told to always be thinking of not drinking, and participants of diets are told to constantly be thinking about healthy food. Richard points out how these curative organizations are reinforcing negative thoughts. Remember the gasoline/fire analogy? By thinking about a negative past to understand how you are today, or always reminding yourself not to drink, or selecting foods that will fit into your diet, you are only making the problem worse. Habits form when we think too much about something. We must let go. We must stop thinking about the source of the problem!

In conclusion, I would like to restate the final sentence of You Can Be Happy No Matter What because I felt it was not only true, but it was powerful: You can be happy right here, right now, if you choose to do so.

 

For further reading: You Can Be Happy No Matter What by Richard Carlson (1997)

 

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That Which Does Not Kill Us Makes Us Stronger

UnknownFriedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) was a famous philosopher who, despite descending into an irreparable madness, made many advancements in post-modernism as well as making some pretty inspirational yet controversial aphorisms.

In his Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche writes in his eighth aphorism, “From the military school of life. That which does not kill me, makes me stronger.” Since then, his quote has been modified and has been accepted as, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

Some, like me, consider Nietzsche an existentialist. My interpretation of this quote is as follows: Every obstacle, every struggle we overcome makes us who we are and adds to our wisdom. Whenever you face hardships, if you are able to knock them down and not let them hurt you, they make you stronger.

Words You’ve Been Misusing

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We usually take words for granted considering we use them every day. However, it may come to a surprise to you that some of those words may not mean what you think. With so many words in the English language, it can be difficult to keep track of what they all mean!

Electrocute
Remember that time when you zapped your friend after coming off the slide and teasing, “Ha, I electrocuted you!”? Let us just hope that you did not really mean it. If you look closely, you will see two other words within electrocution: electric and execution. That’s right, it means death by electricity. So next time you think of sticking a fork in the toaster be careful not to be electrocuted.

Awful
We usually use the adjective awful to describe something horrible or bad. Frankly, I prefer its original definition. Back in the day, awful literally meant full of awe. So next time you think of awful, think of aweful with the e omitted. It sure is awful how many people neglect the awful etymology of awful.

Awesome
While we are discussing awe-inducing words, we must take a look at awesome. Chances are we have all used this colloquial interjection to express something jaw-droppingly cool. As Jill Shargaa laments in her satiric TED Talk “Let’s put the ‘awe’ back in ‘awesome,’” we seem to have completely overused this word to the point where it has been corrupted. Awesome is used for something that elicits awe and admiration.

Incredible
This one is a bit ambiguous. As I was researching, I thought to myself, some of these sources seem “incredible.” Immediately, it sounded a bit off in my head. Then I remembered it was Latin! In-, not, and -credere-, to believe. If you are a pedant, then the formal usage would be to describe something unbelievable. However, we tend to use it to express when we are flabbergasted by something beyond comprehension.

Idiot
Way back in Athens, the word idiot came from the Greek idios for private. Democracy was at its peak, and those who did not concern themselves with politics were called idiots (anglicized). Nowadays, we condemn those who are ignorant–or individuals with an IQ of 30 or lower for those of you in psychology–as idiots. So idiots could actually be off in their own world…

 

For further reading: Tyrannosaurus Lex by Rod L. Evans (2012)

Summary of Plato’s Philosophy

plato-and-aristotle-in-the-academy1.pngThere were three seminal Greek philosophers that lived during the Classical age of Athens. These three were Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. One of the most widely recognized philosophers, Plato was the student of Socrates and teacher of Aristotle. His ideas shaped modern day philosophy and his beliefs are still revered today. At the forefront of Western philosophy, Plato laid down his theories of government, Forms, knowledge, love, and recollection in his memorable dialogues.

Born circa 428 B.C, Aristocles lived with a wealthy family probably in Athens. There is a scarcity of knowledge in regards to his childhood. You may be wondering what the difference between Plato and Aristocles is. Wrestling was a very popular sport in Greece; Aristocles was reportedly an amazing wrestler, and one theory suggests that his teacher called him Plato, Greek for broad. Because his mentor Socrates was sentenced to death by the state, Plato felt great antipathy for democracy. This led him to formulate his own ideal city later on in his life. Plato taught his philosophy at his school the Academy for nearly 800 years until it was closed by Justinian. 

The most important theory in Platonism is the Theory of Forms. Plato’s take on metaphysics posits that what we are seeing is not, in fact, the real world. He insisted that there was another world out there. If that is the case, then what are we seeing? Plato said everything we are sensing is actually a faulty representation of what is really there. Every object has properties that allow them to be classified. A cup, for example, should be able to hold liquid, they are usually round in some way, and they are used for drinking. Not all cups are perfect, per se, and Plato uses this imperfection to conclude that only perfect cups exist in that perfect world. Not only do physical paradigms exist there but ideas, too. One key idea is beauty. The Form of Good is vital in Plato’s theory of recollection and knowledge. Another thing Plato is famous for is his Allegory of the Cave. To sum up the allegory, we are used to seeing shadows, and only when we are freed from our restraints do we finally see reality.

Plato then takes a shot at epistemology, which deals with the concept of knowledge, particularly if it exists and how we acquire it. Here we are introduced to Plato’s Theory of Recollection. Several dialogues, e.g. Republic, Symposium, Phaedo, and Meno, support Plato’s belief in the immortality of the soul. The soul cannot be destroyed and so it takes a new form every death. For all I know, I could have Plato’s soul right now as it has passed through multitudes of generations. Anyway, this all ties into Plato’s explanation of how we acquire knowledge. Once the body dies and the soul is released, it first makes a trip to The Good. As I mentioned previously, The Good is Plato’s representation of the world of Forms. Think of it almost like Heaven — peaceful and in all ways perfect. The soul is able to see these perfect Ideas. Now the soul knows what a perfect cup looks like. It is here that the soul achieves equanimity and supreme knowledge. The soul knows all there is to know. When it reincarnates, it finds a new person. But now the soul is no longer in The Good, so it loses the knowledge of perfection. There are still fragments of Forms left in the soul, though. Plato’s views on beauty are then laid out. We sense its presence, but we will never be able to really see it. Plato states that we never actually learn new things, rather we remember them from The Good. And since our senses are not accurate — because they do not experience the truth — Plato thought that we could find the truth through math. He was a rationalist.

The Symposium and Phaedrus (c. 370 BC), both dialogues by Plato, use Socrates to communicate Plato’s views on love. Other personalities, such as Pausanias and the comic Aristophanes, help to accomplish this task. Plato begins by identifying two types of love, characterized by two personalities of the god of love, Eros. There is the Common Eros and the Heavenly Eros. Common Eros is the love we should try to avoid: irrational, carnal, and desiring only physical beauty. Heavenly Eros, on the other hand, is the love we should be seeking: rational, balanced, and in the pursuit of wisdom. Plato would be lauded for dismissing good looks. He explained that because the physical body is impermanent, it should not be sought after. Lovers should do it not for looks, but for inner beauty and wisdom. Through Aristophanes, Plato details the origin of Man and his search for love. Originally, we were individuals composed of male and female beings. We had two noses, four arms, four eyes, et cetera. But the gods feared us so they split us up. The rest of our lives are spent looking for our missing part, trying to reunite. During a conversation with Phaedrus, Socrates explains love in a metaphor: There is a charioteer and his two horses. One of the horses embodies Heavenly Eros; he is moral and controlled. The other is Common and is immoral and very impetuous. The rash horse goes towards pleasure, but the charioteer and his loyal horse try to resist. Plato says that when we finally unite with our soulmate, we catch yet another glimpse at The Good. The reason it is so hard to explain love and how we feel is because it is impossible to describe The Good in words. But according to Socrates, love, or Eros, is a paradox: Eros is not beautiful because he desires beauty. But you cannot want what you already have, right? Nor is he a god, because he is not all good, for again, he desires goodness. Beauty is then the act of loving love as put by Socrates.

The work most people are interested in is The Republic (c. 380 BC). Arguably Plato’s magnum opus, the dialogue preaches Plato’s idea of a perfect society. Right off the bat, we know it will not be a kind democracy, for as explained in the exposition, he hated democracy. This utopian society was separated into a hierarchy, almost like the Indian caste system. The three classes were the philosophers, the warriors, and the workers. At the top were the kings, fittingly called philosopher kings. Perhaps Plato was a bit biased making philosophers kings — but for good reason. He claimed that philosophers would make great rulers because one, they were wise and would make decisions that hoi polloi (Greek slang for common folk) would not be able to, and two, they had access to The Good. As lovers of wisdom (philo-sophers), the kings could see Forms. Below the kings were warriors. Warriors were important to the society because they provided protection and enforced the law. Only the philosophers and warriors had the right to education. Lastly, the workers were the artisans who made products. Less important, they did not get many rights. Woman and children did not get many rights, either. In addition, art was forbidden and children were practically abducted. The Republic was a communal society, so anyone could live in another’s home. Upon birth, children were taken from their homes to be educated by the philosophers. Clearly, Plato had no faith in parents. Art, he espoused, was a crude and disrespectful representation of the Forms. They had no right to tarnish such perfection.

 

For further reading:
501 Things You Should Have Learned About Philosophy by Alison Rattle (2012)
Philosophy: An Illustrated History of Thought by Tom Jackson (2014)
Visual Reference Guides: Philosophy by Stephen Law (2012)
The Symposium/Phaedrus edited by Tom Griffith (1986)
The Essentials of Philosophy
by James Mannion (2006)
Philosophy as a Way of Life by Pierre Hadot (1995)

The Art of Mindfulness

imagesTake a moment to breathe. It does not matter where you are, whether you are sitting down or on a plane, just take a deep breath. We seem to neglect one of the most fundamental and vital pieces of living. The concept of mindfulness is often affiliated with Zen meditation and Buddhism, but the thing is, it can be applied in our everyday life. You do not have to be spiritual to be mindful; all it takes is patience and commitment.

The definition of mindfulness is “the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.” In all reality, the concept is truly simple. One thing people do incorrectly is they assume that there is some sort of immediate gratification or enlightenment derived from being aware. “As soon as I start to focus on my surroundings, I will be wise” is a misconstrued belief. While it is not incredibly common, mindfulness is not a way of gaining wisdom, rather it is a new way of experiencing everyday life. Luckily for those of us that have stress-filled lives, mindfulness can be done anywhere at anytime. If you are at work, if you are napping, or even if you are on the toilet, mindfulness can be applied.

So what exactly does mindfulness entail? There is a principle in Daoism called Wu Wei. Translated, it pretty much means non-doing. While it seems a bit contradictory, non-doing is an important constituent in being conscious. Wu Wei is not about doing nothing. Frankly, it is a little more than that. Non-doing is about relaxing into the moment. Relaxation is key here; all one’s attention should not be focused on what is in front of you or on that one itch you have, it is about acknowledging everything around you. Pretend like reality is a picture snapped by a camera. You, the viewer, are examining this picture as it really is. But you should not just look at this picture. Remember to be constantly using your five senses (contrary to popular belief, there are tens of senses)! Listen to whatever is going on. Feel the pressure you exert on whatever is beneath you. Smell the air. When I say that mindfulness is applicable anywhere, it even includes eating: your gustatory, aural, oral, tactile, and optic senses can be activated and brought into the moment as you do so. The main idea, if you recall, is to be in the moment. To be present.

We constantly judge things. Whenever we see a person or a thing, we seem to filter it immediately. Thoughts are constantly passing through our minds. Always remain objective, do not let personal opinions cloud your sight. Instead of noting the color of something or noticing if something does not look right, simply see it for how it is. That chair that keeps bothering you in the corner is neither ugly nor beautiful. It is a chair. Appreciate things for how they are. Be thankful for being able to be here. Now. In the present. Accept the gift of living. Too much time is spent on that which has passed or on that which has yet to come. Life is too short, so live now. Obviously, it can be boring and you can find yourself drifting off. Everything is constantly moving. Your breathing is constant, though. A consistent drive of in then out. Focusing on the breath is what keeps us bound and in the moment. Again, use your senses to examine the breathing. Do not be subjective though, feel it as it is. Not everything is under our control, and we have to learn that the hard way. Sometimes you just have to let things happen. Sometimes you just have to do not-doing. As we do this, we must inquire about ourselves. Part of mindfulness is reflecting about ourselves. What do I want to get out of this? Where do I want to go? Am I awake? Mindfulness is not a state, it is a path. The journey towards awakening is up to us as individuals.

The idea of “me”,”I,” and “mine” frequently finds its way into our thought process. When it comes to mindfulness, this is to be avoided. It has been proven that the world does not revolve around us. The course of history is not going to take a rain check just for your needs alone. You are not always in control of fate, but what you are in control of is yourself. And while you may not have control over what happens, you may discover that everything in this world is part of a cycle. Wholeness is another key aspect. Connect yourself with those around you. To explain in Jon-Kabat Zinn’s terms, life is like climbing up a mountain. We experience the world as we go up. Once we reach the top, we have a clear view of our surroundings. Then, we must journey down. In the fragility of life, there is only so much we can do. One thing most meditators like to do is meditate on an emotion. For example, you can meditate on the concepts of anger, generosity, compassion, joy, and equanimity just to name a few.

Life is a one-time thing; do not waste it. The time we spend dwelling on things we cannot change will not benefit us. All the time we spend texting and browsing the internet cannot be brought back. If there is one thing we can do, it is to be present. We must be mindful. No more seeing life in black and white. From now on we must experience the world for how it is. Nature is beautiful and so is life. There is still time to live life freely and without judgement. All it takes is patience and commitment. Carpe diem!

 

For further reading: Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon-Kabat Zinn (1994)
Running with the Mind of Meditation
by Sakyong Mipham (2012)

1001 Ideas That Changed the Way We Think by Robert Arp (2013)
Eastern Philosophy: Wu Wei

Is Perception Reality?

Unknown-1.pngAbout a year ago, I had an assignment in class that asked me this question: Is perception reality? In small groups, we would arrive at a conclusion based on interviews we set up. At the time, before I was interested in philosophy, I thought the answer was obvious: No, perception is not reality. Our parents tell us “you can’t judge a book by its cover” at a young age. But, according to idealist philosophies, that may not be the case. By looking at Plato, George Berkeley, Immanuel Kant, and Georg Hegel (only a fraction of the idealists), we might just find that perception truly is reality.

To begin, I will bring up the inverted spectrum problem. Say I live in a red house. Whenever you look at it, though, it is a different shade of red, say maroon. Do we see the same red? This is a classic problem, but to make it even more complex, how about we add a twist. What if neither of us is correct? Perhaps both of us are completely blind and the house is really blue. When I say really, I am referring to a non-subjective, purely objective reality.

Take Plato’s Theory of Forms (387 BC). According to Plato, there are two worlds. We live in a world that mirrors the ideal world. This ideal world contains every entity in its purest form. Our idea of a house — a dwelling for the purpose of habitation — is a very rough and flawed semblance of what a house really is.

Immanuel Kant’s transcendental idealism (1781) echoes the same idea. Kant proposed two worlds, the noumenal and phenomenal. Like Plato, Kant reasoned that our phenomenal world was a misrepresentation of the real noumenal world. Everything we sense, says Kant, is processed by our individual minds and then categorized. If this is in fact correct, then no one will have an idea of what is real. Plato theorized that the human mind was not able to fathom the perfection of such ideals, so it is impossible to visualize them.

George Berkeley’s theories added onto Kant’s, claiming, “To be is to be perceived” (1710). Berkeley thought all of our perceptions were a result of us, the perceivers. How our body is at the time or what we are thinking at the time influences our perceptions. So, anything we experience will always change. Maybe reality is not a set thing. Maybe reality is always shaping itself to our biases and there is no reality. But Berkeley greatly distrusted the mind. Again, he declared that our mind was responsible for our perceptions, so there must be a glimpse of reality. The only way to grasp this is by speaking because it is communicated immediately or by direct sense because we sense it without the interference of our brain.

Much of Georg Hegel’s work is enigmatic, but the main idea behind his philosophy is that reality is contained in an Absolute Spirit (1831). A lot of Hegel’s idealism is based on Kant, as evidenced by the phenomenal world. The Absolute Spirit is the intrinsic value of nature, and it is the complex resolution to essence and being. This Absolute idealism linked the mind to reality and time. It worked using an intricate logic system known as the dialectic, in which a phenomenon (thesis) would be tested against a contradiction (antithesis) in order to reach a logical conclusion that consolidated both ideas into an understanding (synthesis).

 

For further reading:
501 Things You Should Have Learned About Philosophy by Alison Rattle (2012)
Philosophy: An Illustrated History of Thought by Tom Jackson (2014)
1001 Ideas That Changed the Way We Think by Robert Arp (2013)
The Essentials of Philosophy by James Mannion (2006)