mandag 26. oktober 2009

The meaning of life and the secret to happiness

"When I was in high school, I had a teacher who gave us a reading
list of the best works of literature in the world. Number one on
that list was the Bible. So during summer break, I decided to read
the good book as literature. And one small section really struck me
at the time: The Book Of Ecclesiastes.

It is the famous book in the Bible that begins "vanity of vanities,
all is vanity," something that should be posted over the
entranceway to all L.A. clubs. It's been heavily quoted in timeless
songs, such as "Turn Turn Turn."

And it's basic philosophy is this, at least in my interpretation:

Work hard at your life and yourself. Be a good person, and enjoy
everything there is under the sun. The author writes: "I searched
in my heart how to gratify my flesh with wine, while guiding my
heart with wisdom...I made my works great, I built myself houses... I
became great and excelled."

But, in his old age, he surveys his labors: "I looked on all the
works that my hands had done and on the labor in which I had
toiled, and indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind."

No, this is not a sermon. Keep reading. Neither is this a Buddhist
message about renouncing the material world. Because, in the end,
the speaker in the Book of Ecclesiastes decides: "Eat your bread
with joy and drink your wine with a merry heart... Let your garments
always be white and let your head lack no oil... Live joyfully with
the wife whom you love...Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with
all your might, for there is no work or device or wisdom in the
grave where you are going."

So what God is saying here is get drunk. It's totally cool. Just
clean up afterward.

Actually, the message is this (in my crude non-scholarly analysis):
Find a life to live, find a woman to love, find a place to work--and
live to your fullest, love to your greatest capacity, work your
hardest, and be a good person. Then die knowing nothing will have
really made a difference in the overall scheme of things.

This may not necessarily be my belief, or yours, but here's the
takeaway: if all is vanity, then stop making yourself miserable -
just keep busy and be happy.

That, of course, leaves the question: What should we be doing with
this time, and how do we stay happy?

So let's leave the Bible and return to the present age.

First of all, don't expect to be happy all the time. If you've ever
had a pet, you'll notice that the pet doesn't complain when it's
hurt or in pain. The human animal is the only one that says, "Why
me?" -- as if it is our birthright to be happy all the time.

Sometimes we're sad or angry or depressed. But if rather than
fighting against it, like it's wrong and some kind of disorder, you
just relax into the emotion and ride it through until it's over, it
doesn't have to be a gut-wrenching experience. It's good to
experience these extreme emotions: it let's you know you're alive
and feeling.

Of course, we'd all like to stay positive and happy and content as
much as possible. It's especially useful to be in this state when
interacting socially, because it's the best way to attract other
people to you.

So how does one stay in this state?

My secret: Balance.

Even if you love your work, you can't spend the entirety of every
day working. You can't spend it partying or sarging either, as fun
as that may be. However, you'll find that if each day, you
productively do something in each of the following areas, your mood
and confidence and charisma and happiness and inner game will

1. Work

2. Physical (exercise, running, swimming, a sport)

3. Social (and, yes, that can include Rules Of The Game

4. Creativity or Education (whether it's writing, making music,
cooking, programming, taking classes, or learning another language)

5. Relaxation, whether it's reading a book or watching TV or
playing Wii Tennis or staring at the wall and contemplating life or
lying in the sun and thinking about nothing.

So, your mission over the holidays:

Make a list of the specific things that make you happy and balanced
in each of these categories, and then make an effort to comfortably
fit them all into your schedule at least five days a week. Most of
these areas don't need to take more than half an hour each day. And
chances are you're doing at least two of them a day anyway.

If you find that days are passing by and you're not exercising or
socializing, for example, you may need to actually write out a
daily schedule for yourself and then stick to it.

And, finally, if you're one of those people who says they have no
time, chances are that the problem may not be time but time
management. Start keeping track of exactly what you do each day and
for how long. Actually write it down on a sheet of paper: how much
time you spend eating breakfast, how much time you spend checking
emails, what you're doing with your time at work. Then see where
the inefficiencies are and eliminate them.

And then, of course, die. It's all vanity anyway. But it's fun, you
get one chance, and you might as well start making the most of it
right now, before it's too late."
Of Neil Strauss

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