Philosophy off the rails and how to get back on

May 15, 2015 by Joshua
in Awareness, Education, Perception

The following is half-baked, but I’d rather share half-baked thoughts, take criticism, possibly embarrass myself, and learn than keep quiet and not learn.

Since before Plato a major goal of philosophy has been to figure out how to make yourself happy, to understand what makes for a good life, and how to make one’s life a good life.

I haven’t met many philosophers, but they don’t seem the happiest people. The field seems to have become academic and intellectual—in other words, on the mind and thinking over the body and behaving. It seems to me that anyone pursuing philosophy that hasn’t figured out how to make yourself happy has lost sight of the main goal. I find a lot of philosophy intriguing, fascinating, enlightening, and all that, but not necessarily helpful in improving my life. In fact, I find it counterproductive, at least relative to things that I find consistently effective, like exercise, cooking, SIDCHAs, sports, time with friends, and other simple things, as removed from a university philosophy department or intellectual book.

Experience tells me more studying and reading don’t help as much as self-reflection following behavior and interaction. What behavior isn’t necessarily obvious.

I try to teach through exercises to give people practice with behaviors to create meaning, value, importance, and purpose (MVIP) for themselves and people they interact with. I call the latter leadership because it helps you lead so much, but the word doesn’t capture the practice perfectly. In any case, I think my MVIP is close enough to the pre-off-the-rails philosopher’s happiness so as not to have to differentiate them.

I don’t think MVIP or happiness comes from reading or writing papers. I don’t think anyone can, through transferring information and knowledge, make you happy. I don’t think intellectual discourse is an effective path, at least not in the proportion philosophy handles it today.

I find guiding people through experiences—experiential learning, coaching, and the like—more effective. I see the set of exercises I’ve created for my course as a new direction representing an advance that I haven’t known taken (am I just ignorant of history?) since the ancients. I think of Buddhism’s Eightfold Path as suggesting behaviors to get out of misery, but it still relies on supernatural concepts of enlightenment and reincarnation. Plenty of traditions guide behavior, but through describing principles, not specific behaviors creating learning experiences to make it easy. I’m not saying my exercises are perfect, but I think their specificity and method help develop the skills to create happiness and MVIP, which lead to understanding intuitively what philosophers try to communicate verbally and intellectually.

Does anyone reading know of other traditions that promote simple, specific exercises that develop skills to create happiness and MVIP? I can think of many areas with simple, specific exercises that develop skills in those areas, like learning to dance, play a sport, play a musical instrument, sing, and other behavioral skills. I’m not aware of any that teach you how to create happiness and MVIP deliberately and predictably. I’m creating them. Or at least trying to, and they happen to teach leadership as a side benefit.

Am I crazy to think I might live when we first develop them and they take root? And that I might be part of that progress? One thing I learned in science is that you make more progress not thinking you’re special, like people who thought the Earth was at the center of the universe, or that the sun was, or that humans were specially created, or even the pinnacle of evolution. In other words, I expect I’m ignorant of relevant traditions, though thinking I’m not motivates me. Either way, I’d rather know of successful traditions of teaching people the skills to create their own happiness and MVIP than not.

Read my weekly newsletter

Initiative leadership spodek

On initiative, leadership, the environment, and burpees

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit

5 responses on “Philosophy off the rails and how to get back on

  1. “Does anyone reading know of other traditions that promote simple, specific exercises that develop skills to create happiness and MVIP?”

    The closest I am aware of is “the seven habits of highly successful people”. Even though most people just know of the names of the 7 habits, its a very deep book. I have it on audio, and hear it every day. The book itself maynot have very specific exercises, but the website(FranklinCovey) provides more of such exercises.

    Other books/traditions I have got high recommendations about:
    1. Buddhism: You mentioned a lot of supernatural concepts of enlightenment and reincarnation. Maybe I am just in the beginning phases, and dont know much about buddhism, but the one retreat I went to, the few people I follow (Tara Brach, Gil Frondsal), Book (mindfulness in plain english) dont mention a lot of supernational concepts.
    2. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (Havent read this, yet but have heard rave reviews about this)
    3. The happiness hypothesis (skimmed)
    4. Man’s search for meaning by victor frankl (Havent read yet)

    Actually all of the same propose the same/similar basic tenets for happiness.

    • I agree they all promote happiness, to the extent I know them (I haven’t read Marcus Aurelius), but do they give specific exercises? Like if you want to learn to program computers, they start you with “Hello world”. To play tennis they start you with ground strokes. I mean specific, simple exercises that teach basic skills?

      Some branches of Buddhism do, I think, so I’ll give them that, but the supernatural part I don’t like, as described. Buddhism arose to solve problems suggested by the belief in reincarnation, which looks supernatural to me, as does enlightenment. Some Buddhist traditions get much more into it. Some of its practices, without the supernatural beliefs, I find effective.

      • Yeah, I am not really sure. But I have been able to find some proxies as I work through the seven habits. So far I haven’t put in a lot of time other than listening to the 7 habits over and over. I have to work through the habits and implement them.

        Before I wrote the last post, I was actually looking for such exercises, and I did find a few on the FranklinCovey website. Right now I am at the point of writing my mission statement. Towards that I have found proxies: “the pathfinder” by Nicholas lore in the professional domain. I have to find similar proxies in other domain.

        Happiness is a very complex subject. There is an entire field of psychology, “positive psychology” which just studies how to make people happy. Because it’s so complex, I am not sure simple exercises will make people happy. Also simple exercises can be the hardest things to do.

        For example, vipassana meditation, is one of the simplest exercises to make people happy. But it’s also one of the hardest things to do over a long period of time, because you have to deal with so much shit that your mind throws at you.

        I think because most of unhappiness comes from grasping or longing for material things, if you are willing to do anything, you will become very happy if you just give up everything and become a monk. People have known this for a long period of time. Vipassana has existed for 2500 years, and does provide simple exercises to improve. Also you don’t necessarily have to become Buddha or believe in reincarnation to benefit from vipassana. Even people who progress partially along the path gain immensely.

        The challenge, I think is how do you experience all the material experiences and be happy as well, kind of “have the cake and eat it too”. This probably is why the character ethic in 7 habits becomes so important.

        • So far I haven’t put in a lot of time other than listening to the 7 habits over and over. I have to work through the habits and implement them.

          Reading is not doing. I’ve fallen into that trap many times, and it’s near the root of why I’m moving away from sharing discoveries to sharing exercises people can do to discover for themselves. I recommend putting the book away and do things.

          Happiness is a very complex subject

          Happiness is as complex as you believe it. Many simple people learn to create happiness and many complex people don’t. Nutrition can seem complex from some perspectives, but the less I study nutrition and the more I eat simply, the healthier I find myself. In other words, I don’t find happiness complex if I do things that make me happy.

          Have you read my posts on Vipassana? I’ve also found it helpful (though I don’t like some parts, especially how sectarian it is, how it claims not to be sectarian, how it has a bunch of meaningless ritual, how it claims it has not meaningless ritual, references to the supernatural). I agree it’s hard but find it rewarding. I don’t think it directly makes people happy but gives them tools to create happiness.

          I find developing the ability to create happiness or emotional reward when you want it hard, like you say. It takes deliberate and dedicated work. On the other hand, when you get it and make habits out of what works, I find it becomes easy, almost default and automatic. Challenges still happen, but you return to a rewarding point by default.

  2. Edit: All of the above books/traditions propose the same/similar basic tenets for happiness

Leave a Reply

Sign up for my weekly newsletter