Why Hedonism Doesn't Work [Video]
On hedonism and why the pursue of pleasure is not the best strategy for dealing with life.
There are many schools of philosophy that aim to provide us with methods of dealing with stress and finding an inner peace and focus. Some suggest meditation, others give us valuable tips and principles to live by, and yet others help us to understand the root of what could make our life chaotic.
Remaining centred in chaos is one of the highest virtues that humans can achieve. Each of us knows the consequences of acting upon ever-changing emotions, the heat of a moment, the tiny annoyance that could knock us out of our peace, or the tragedy that could shatter our world to pieces. No human is immune to either of these circumstances, and it is the very essence of being human in the first place, as if we signed the contract with the universe that moments of peace will follow the moments of chaos. We cannot change what happens to us, but we can choose how to respond to each and every moment.
It doesn't involve getting rid of our emotions and feelings – they make us human in the first place! But we always have a choice whether we want to act upon them or not.
There is of course a quick and easy shortcut that could lead us towards an entrance to peace: apathy. However, resolving to this solution not only robs us of our agency (“I don't care so why should I do anything at all”), but also provides the universe with an opportunity to throw at us even more chaos, adding to the already existing mess. For many, apathy has become the dominant force in their lives, creating a situation when one neither cares, nor wants to know what to do with whatever became a nuisance. The longer one stays in this state, the less clear it becomes what was the main reason of becoming apathetic in the first place.
I don't have any solution for the pain and suffering that enters our lives periodically, and I stay away from those who claimed they have found it. What I do know, however, is that there is no other choice but to deal with life and whatever happens to us. People came to this conclusion centuries ago – Stoicism, Buddhism, then Absurdism. Just like Sisyphus, we roll our rock of strength and determination each time we deal with pain, and then we peacefully watch it rolling down the hill until the next moment demands our engagement. And just like Sisyphus, we don't give up – we remain centred and we pick our strength up, and then roll it up the hill again until we reach the moment of peace and achievement.
1. Stick to your principles and values. Even if the world crumbles or goes to pieces; even if everyone is against you – you must stick to what you believe is right. But, don't be stubborn. If your circumstances change or if the situation demands of you something different to what you are used to, don't hesitate to change your beliefs after careful consideration. Learn from mistakes and experience – that's where your values and principles come from.
2. Don't turn away, don't run, and don't avoid anything that affects your life and demands your attention. Turning away will often create even more problems than you've had on the beginning. However, you must also know when to give up, when to leave things to their own devices if they are beyond your control. Know what you can control, focus on this, and leave the rest to the natural forces of the universe. There is absolutely no way you can control everything.
3. Adapt and act with meaning. Each action should have a clear reason for performing it, otherwise you lose your agency and allow to be swayed around by the currents of life. Marcus Aurelius said: “No random actions, none not based on underlying principles.“. If you care at least a little bit about making your life meaningful – start from making each and every action fully meaningful. Having your intentions and principles as a guide will help you to get the outcomes that you desire, as well as provide you with better strength to make the best choices under unforeseen circumstances.
4. “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” - decode what Da Vinci meant and you will find the unshakable centre, hardly ever threatened by the noise of everyday life.
People have a creative tendency to make life more complex than it in reality is. We often search for a meaning where there is none, we tend to attribute more importance to certain events or actions of others than necessary, and we stress ourselves with ideas and explanations hardly rooted in the reality. All these scenarios are a consequence of overthinking. Let your reason to guide you, but know when to stop - “Reflection poisons desire”.
Learn to cherish simple things. Simplicity is an acquired taste that anyone can develop. It's easier to think and have a clear perspective once you remove all noise and everything that is unnecessary.
5. Compassion. Once you understand the root of evil and once you become aware that you possess precisely the same weaknesses and vulnerabilities as everyone around you, your attitude will change. If you can't do that, you won't be able to fully see your fellow human being as they are; you will demand more than anyone can achieve, and you will blame them for not fulfilling your expectations. That will make you bitter and discouraged.
Whether everyone possesses the same amount of discipline to keep these evil drives at bay is another story, but at least becoming aware of your shortcomings and lack of perfection will give you a big chunk of understanding why everyone around you acts in a manner that you don't approve.
“Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness – all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good or evil. But for my part I have long perceived the nature of good and its nobility, the nature of evil and its meanness, and also the nature of the culprit himself, who is my brother (not in the physical sense, but as a fellow creature similarly endowed with reason and a share of the divine); therefore none of those things can injure me, for nobody can implicate me in what is degrading. Neither can I be angry with my brother or fall foul of him; for he and I were born to work together, like a man’s two hands, feet or eyelids, or the upper and lower rows of his teeth. To obstruct each other is against Nature’s law – and what is irritation or aversion but a form of obstruction.”
- Marcus Aurelius
6. Keep a healthy distance. I'm not telling you to become aloof, indifferent or apathetic. But if you immerse yourself fully in each and every situation, you won't see the forest for the trees. Although achieving perfect objectivity is a questionable goal, because all our thinking is saturated with our subjectivity to the very core, a certain amount of objectivity is possible. Imagine a difference in your perception in two situations: one, being immersed in conflict and all emotions that it entails; and second – stepping outside the conflict and seeing it for what it is, all variables that contribute to it, and all emotional states that it produces. I don't need to explain the difference.
There is a similar concept in Buddhism and it refers to the attachment. The less we attach ourselves to our ideas, emotions, desires, and goals, the less suffering we will experience, and the easier it will become to deal with each and every situation in our lives. I explain this idea in depth in my course and how our lack of attachment to the outcomes of our actions can produce marvellous results by making us more creative and productive. This applies to every area of our lives – social interactions, career, and hobbies.
Carlos Castaneda wrote: “Once you decide something put all your petty fears away. Your decision should vanquish them. I will tell you time and time again, the most effective way to live is as a warrior. Worry and think before you make any decision, but once you make it, be on your way free from worries or thoughts; there will be a million other decisions still awaiting you. That's the warrior's way.”