Planned Unhappiness

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” Dwight D. Eisenhower

“Life is What Happens To You While You’re Busy Making Other Plans”,
John Lennon

There is a fine distinction between having a plan for your life (a desire) and planning your life in terms of contingencies and alternatives (prudence). Having a plan to be happy, get married to your soulmate, have 2.4 kids, the perfect home in the suburbs, etc. is a plan for heartbreak and failure. Life does not take into account our plans for happiness and we should not either by making such.

Life is what is happening in every ticking moment, every drop of sand in the hourglass. It is ourselves in time, and we should appreciate and work with what we have in this moment, not wish for what we don’t in the future or regret our decisions of the past.

Planning for possibilities allows us to better weather the storm of uncertainty that is life, but even then we are likely to be thrown a curve by unplanned events. However, those who have planned for possibilities instead of certainties are better prepared to adjust and keep moving forward than someone who has invested all their energy and dreams into a single course, who when it does not go as planned have no capacity to recover.

Likewise, planning for happiness is also planning to fail. Happiness is not a destination, but rather highlights along the journey. By focusing only on the goal and tying your happiness to it, you lose the awareness to be happy due to successes and events along the way.

There will always be ups and downs on life’s journey. Be open to recognizing the opportunities to be happy along the way, and realize that the hardships are only temporary as everyone’s journey ends the same.

The Dichotomy of Stoic Virtue

“Conduct yourself in all matters, grand and public or small and domestic, in accordance with the laws of nature. Harmonizing your will with nature should be your utmost ideal. Where do you practice this ideal? In the particulars of your own daily life with its uniquely personal tasks and duties. “
Epictetus

“For what is Man? A rational animal, subject to death. At once we ask, from what does the rational element distinguish us? From wild beasts. And from what else? From sheep and the like. Look to it then that you do nothing like a wild beast, else you destroy the Man in you and fail to fulfill his promise. See that you do not act like a sheep, or else again the Man in you perishes.
You ask how we act like sheep?
When we consult the belly, or our passions, when our actions are random or dirty or inconsiderate, are we not falling away to the state of sheep? What do we destroy? The faculty of reason. When our actions are combative, mischievous, angry, and rude, do we not fall away and become wild beasts?” Epictetus

“To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them:”
Hamlet, Act III, Scene I, William Shakespeare

The adoption of the Stoic virtues of courage, wisdom, justice and temperance are at their core I believe a program for the followers of Stoicism to develop their true, rational, nature through the adoption of habits based on two complementary goals; “taming the beast” and “training the sage”.

To follow Stoic philosophy is, in my opinion, to adopt a program of continual self improvement. The ultimate aim is to live a more rational life, and as a result to develop yourself so that you are less subject to suffering as a result of the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”. It is not to develop a Spock like, unemotional, approach to the world.

The Stoics realized that while man may be the only animal that is capable of rational thought (or so they believed at the time), our behavior certainly does not demonstrate our rationality but rather the emotional (or what I call the monkey mind) and instinctual (or what I call the lizard mind) behavior of all animals. We in effect have a unique capability, but unless we recognize it and more importantly work to develop it, we will never reap its benefits and rise to the potential of our true nature.

When looking again at the core stoic virtues, working to live these daily has helped me tame my emotions and develop my rational capabilities. The virtues of temperance and courage help me calm the inner emotional beast, by overcoming fear in order to do what is right (as defined by the rational virtues), and by tempering my other emotions which can lead me astray. I realize that Stoicism is not a rejection of my emotional nature, but rather an acknowledgement that this exist within all of us and as such should be used and channeled for our benefit. We should not be slaves to our emotions but rather their masters.

The practice of the virtues of justice and prudence develops my rational nature, by teaching me to think before I act (and more important to think deeply, not just the first order effects), and to consider my interactions with others and the world through the lens of fairness and balance. Justice is not the blind adherence to laws or regulations, but rather a view of the world which recognizes both its true nature of chaos and our ability to best navigate this storm when we approach it with our eyes open and without preconceived notions of what is “right”.

Fate and Fortune

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“I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all. “ Ecclesiastes 9:11

A recent study from Cornell confirmed what I had long suspected about the role of luck vs talent in success. The bottom line is that having the greatest talent is not the prime determinant of success but rather it is a combination of luck (being at the right place at the right time), and having sufficient talent to recognize and exploit the opportunity.

From a Stoic perspective, this reinforces the fundamental principal of what little we control. I can only control what I think and how I act. I can attempt to find the right places and be there at the right times, however whether I am successful is up to fate, and I should not berate myself when the opportunities do not show up.

This also relates to the Buddhist concept of desire as the root cause of suffering. As long as I hitch my emotional wagon to the idea that something external must happen in order for me to be “happy”, I never will be.

Yes, I can get lucky and the wanted event can occur, but this just feeds the monkey in terms of wanting further reinforcement for what are ultimately random events.

My lesson, do the best I can, try and recognize opportunities when they arise, but in the end realize it is up to fate what occurs and what my path will be. Even the fortune I was seeking could in the end have had undesirable consequences (winning the lottery but then being hit by the bus on the way to collect the prize). I must always remind myself that I cannot foresee the future, I an only make predictions based on what I know, and as predictions my chances of being correct are only probabilities.

Focusing on improving myself through living my virtues is my only guaranteed path to success. The message of modern society, that my successes or failures are all attributable to my efforts, with all the attendant psychosis when I don’t achieve my goals, is shown for the lie that it is.