I am a little late on this one, but it remains relevant regardless of the time of year!
So here it is, 2015 has come. At last! – as far as I am concerned. In other words a new year is here and for many people, this means looking at one’s life and decide for some changes, the infamous ‘New Year’s Resolutions‘.
I can be straight and blunt. Resolutions are a bunch of imaginative little bits of crap, that emerge once a year in our lives. Commercial entities push in that direction too: ‘New Year, New You‘ one can read across online shopping websites. No one holds to their resolutions, simply because they are a feel good artifact of our culture(s), not a feel good property of our identity. We think we have a mini mid-life crisis every year after Christmas, just to make sure we forget it by the first lights of the new year. An artifact is what it is: a mirage.
As much as the psychological benefits of making resolutions every year are in my view inexistent, the idea of re-evaluating one’s life from time to time is appealing. The date is irrelevant, and I even think that choosing a date (new year, birthday, etc.) is a factor for failing to change a habit. Dr. Carter (see this article) agrees with me on this.
A few months ago, my life started to change. There was difficult times, and there was great times. 2014 was a year which brought me a deep knowledge of myself. Not because I sought that insight, but because of the experiences I had, which helped me understanding myself better. They allowed me to look inside and see what is actually there, deeper than ever before. Do not laugh: it is far more different, powerful and sensible than what you may think. I am incredibly grateful for all the hard times I had. For a long time, I found the idiom “Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the person you are” (attributed to Kurt Cobain, the late Nirvana bandleader who performed this amazing performance) to be attractive. Now I have come to realize that its meaning is more insightful than it appears. In so many occasions, we – you, me, everybody – are trying to be someone else; or, we are trying to appear to be someone else. The distinction is important, but for my purpose here I will consider them to be equal.
So how? If we look inside deeply, and found some different than expected, what is the right thing to do? I do not believe there is a cookie-cutter type of answer, but I can offer my answer. If I find it works for me, perhaps it can work for someone else.
My expectations in life have often been high: ambition and success, with the material comfort often associated with them; being the best, not to brag but as a confidence-boosting mechanism; a solid family to lead. Patterns of the advertised successful life.
It turns out these are artifacts. I found that I could not care less about these things. My true identity revolves around different things: leading a meaningful life, reaching to others in a deep and fully engaged fashion, contributing to mankind – even if achieving a very minor contribution. Certainly philosophy has influenced me, but I truly believe living well and being good is a fundamental key to one’s happiness.
And this is probably the core of the question. What is it to ‘Live Well‘? In this wonderful book, Sarah Bakewell shows what answers would Montaigne may have given. Many approaches are inspiring, and echo what I found elsewhere: Socrates on the (ir)relevance of Death for example.
But one thought kept occurring to me: am I free? I was quick to conclude that living well requires a large freedom, much wider than what I ever had and could conceive. Then I realised that I have a golden opportunity, now, to reach that freedom.
Without going into details… My savings would allow me to go without work for quite some time. My rental agreement expires soon. I have no (longer) dependents. It seems the universe is telling me that if I want to do something, all elements to give me the freedom to say ‘Go for it!’ are in place.
And I know being meaningful and mindful is what freedom should be used for. I have many ideas, more than I can turn into life plans.
As I progress towards realising some of these ideas, clutter comes in. I have stuff, too much stuff. Far too much stuff. You too – everybody does. Well, almost. This stuff, whatever it may be, is holding me down. I have the Freedom and the ideals to move forward, but I also carry dead weight.
Upon realising this, I starter to declutter. Not only my wardrobe and my office, but also my life. Pairs of trousers I will never wear again? Gone to charity. Ugly but good quality scarf offered for Christmas? Gone to the needy. Wine bottles in store? Sold. Extra sets of towels, glasses, etc.? Gone. Old papers? Shredded and sent to be recycled. Apps on my phone? Deleted. Newsletters that I delete before I read them? Unsubscribed. Newsletters that I read but takes me away to real things? Unsubscribed. Facebook? Once a week, maximum 5 minutes. I would not close it because it is the only I have to reach some good friends across the world (phone numbers change, Facebook does not).
It is not an easy process, it requires some discipline. I gave away clothes I really loved. I threw out things that have had a sentimental value. Cherishing memories in my head does not need paper. Not simple, and there is still a long way to go.
I could expand on all the steps, but also do not want to go over 1,000 words. So in summary, I can now write a formula, my formula:
Happiness = Living Well = Freedom + Meaningful and Mindful Actions – Everything Else