The Good Life Closes Out Bad Possibilities

Far from having a “bucket list”, I now understand that the proper conduct of the second half of life is to approach something like what the Tibetan Buddhists call tukdam, to do less and less, but only to sit and meditate, and to breathe once every century or so, so that by the time you actually die there will be scarcely any change to register. I can picture a future not so far from now when, to the question, “Is he alive or dead?”, the only fitting response will be: “Who can say?” …

…Alcohol is surprisingly similar to salt in this regard: it is easy to see how it can help to keep us alive, when times are hard, even if it helps to kill us when times are easy (or hard, but in another way)…

…You keep pushing nature to give you more of what it has, in higher doses, and eventually it breaks, and gives you something with a causal history rooted in the thing you started with and the thing you wanted more of, but with an opposite and hostile nature….

…To put this another way, I no longer see the world as frothing with possibility, as “open”. That’s what it is, I think, to survive past midlife: your life is not done, yet it is, as we say, “a done deal”.

Can it still, under such circumstances, hold out the hope of being “good”? Hell yes, life is good. It’s a gift, it’s a miracle, &c. And it is surely a blessing to live long enough to learn to stop searching in vain for sources of transcendence in the common substances of this world, however rarefied they are made, however spirit-like, by the long art of men.”

-Justin E. H. Sith , “Gone Bad, Come to Life: On Fermentation, Distillation, and Sobriety.” justinehsmith.substack.com. November 27, 2022.

Excellent throughout.

Do The Easy Bits First

“As soon as you’ve done the easy bit, everything around it becomes easier. This is the way we solve the puzzle.

This is also the way we fix the world…

…If I run into a problem I can’t solve yet, or I encounter a subject that’s too hard for me, I go “Huh, interesting”, and save it for later, or leave it to someone better suited to it.

I don’t give up. This is important. I just move on to something else, often something nearby.

I find a problem I can solve, and then I solve it.

And everything else becomes easier.”

—David R. MacIver, “You have to do the easy bits first.” notebook.drmaciver.com, July 27, 2021.

Strikes me as in the same space as my recent commentary on incrementalism. This is the way, but most problems are not jigsaw or Sudoku puzzles. The temptation with problems without a clear endpoint is to do the minimum necessary.

Decide to K.I.S.S.

“…irrelevant information or unavailable options often cause people to make bad choices. When both elements are present, the probability of a poor decision is even greater.”

—Chadd, I., Filiz-Ozbay, E. & Ozbay, E.Y. “The relevance of irrelevant information.” Experimental Economics. November 11, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10683-020-09687-3

Determining what is possible and the relevant information between choices is key to good decision-making. It’s obvious, but at the same time, it’s something worth keeping in the forefront of our minds when making decisions.

Reading Harry Potter as a Sacred Text

“What if we take this seriously? What gifts is it going to give us if we love something, and we love it with rigor, and we love it with commitment?”

Reading Harry Potter as a Sacred Text

Strikes me as an important question for many things in our lives that we trivialize because they aren’t “important” enough. What happens when we choose to love something, whether it deserves it or not, and how does it change it/them/us in the process?

The only caveat is to try to love wisely. It’s impossible to know where love will lead us, but if the chances are good a love will lead us down a bad path, perhaps it would be better to choose a different one.

Words & Worldviews

I was reading another one of those end of year life hack articles yesterday, about how changing one word can change your attitude toward obligations. The crux: instead of saying, “I have to wake up to go to work at 0600,” you change it to get, “I get to wake up to go to work at 0600.”

This simple substitution changes your attitude toward what you are doing. It is now phrased in terms of an opportunity. It makes you wonder what kind of changes would happen by reframing traditional ideas in a positive fashion.

Instead of a Ten Commandments of “Thou shall not kill” you could reframe it in a positive, “Thou shall be peaceful and help all living beings flourish.” The words we use create our worldview.

This is an important point. Our attitudes, our opinions, our ways of looking at the world are created whole cloth in our minds. They don’t exist out there in the world. They exist only in our minds. Ideas are exchanged between minds through symbols. It is our acceptance of them that gives them the appearance of being real.

In Buddhism, this is the fundamental problem of life. The mind creates fictions. We believe that we are our thoughts and emotions. We are dissatisfied with the world. We wish it to be other than it is or worry that a satisfactory situation will change (as it always does). We want to be more powerful, famous, rich, beautiful, taller, more intelligent, stronger, thinner, etc. All of which are ego delusion that assumes that the way we view the world is how the world really is and that you would be better off if you got what you wanted (even though you most likely would just want something else).

While it would be nice to be able to take the world as it comes and live in the moment as an enlightened Buddha, very few of us are there yet. In the meantime, we free to find meaning in life, even in situations of terrible suffering such as in the concentration camp Victor Frankl lived in.

In comfortable circumstances, why choose suffering? You get to choose to look at the world any way that you want. Why not start the New Year by improving your worldview and your outlook? Why not start by taking an accounting of what is really needed, how much we have and being grateful for so much abundance?

No Regrets

“VEDANTAM: I understand you got married about a year ago. And you applied some of your own research on regret when it came to choosing a wedding dress.

SUMMERVILLE: I did. So I actually wasn’t applying my own research. I applied to work by Sheena Iyengar on the phenomenon of choice overload as well as work by Barry Schwartz and colleagues about the idea of maximizing versus satisficing as strategies for decisions – maximizing being the idea that you want to pick the best of all possible alternatives and satisficing being the idea that you’re going to pick something that meets all of your standards but may or may not be the absolute best.

So when I was wedding dress shopping, I went to a couple of stores. I tried on five or 10 dresses at each one. And I found a dress that I absolutely loved and was in my price range. And I realized that what the research told me was I would never be happier than I was at that moment – that if I kept dress shopping, I was going to wind up feeling overwhelmed. You know, I could find a hundred different lace sheaths with a V-neck in ivory, and I would wind up feeling confused about what are the differences between these, and that the very act of trying to get the absolute best would mean that I could never really be sure if I’d done it. Whereas, if I adopted a satisficing strategy, I could be sure I’m in a dress that looks beautiful on me and is in my price range, and I should just buy it and be done. And so that’s how I chose my wedding dress.”

—Emma Maris, “Feminine And Unapologetic.” Lastwordonnothing.com September 25, 2017.

h/t Hidden Brain. What I find puzzling about Emma’s commentary is she, in her writing, is both criticizing the trivialization of gendered examples and at the same time does it herself. Crying while doing dishes and listening to the radio is only female in so far as women are more likely to be washing dishes in the first place.