How not to reject life
What does it mean to live a happy life? What does that mean in the day to day? Why do we love to think we have it all figured out?
There’s this very powerful concept named eternal return. It basically postulates that everything that happens has happened before, and is destined to happen again, and in that sense it is really self-explanatory. This idea that life is predeterministic and laid out in an endless cycle is, obviously, false, but the thought experiment it lays out is of upmost usefulness.
Let’s think about what it would mean for us as we live life. Imagine every choice you’ve taken up to this point, in a long ledger that ends exactly where you are at. Now imagine the idea that once your life is over, all those choices you will live all over again, every feeling, perception, judgement, and interaction; all destined to be re-lived. What do you feel when you think of that? What does that mean? Now consider what that means when looking backwards: all the choices you have taken, all those deicisons that felt insurmountable and caused you incrdible stress and anxiety; all of them, they couldn’t have been otherwise and have actually always been like this. Everything that has take you where you are, and everywhere you are to go, it’s all happened before and will all happen again. All your daily preoccupations look a bit more silly, don’t they?
This might feel not liberating but sad; thinking that it’s all decided and done also makes you feel powerless and all your efforts look worthless, but you can rest assure that they do, since after all this theory is false, or at least unprovable, which makes it beyond false; undefined. The thing you should focus on is on the fact that life goes, and it keeps going, regardless of how you choose to feel with it; the things that you do, and the things that happen to you are both things that make your life and that you can either accept or reject. Rejecting life ends up in a life that in many ways resembles death, and in that it can be thought of as an antithesis to a happy life.
Now this takes us to regretting. Regretting is, in the purest sense of the word, rejecting reality for a hypothetical better version of it. Regretting is mostly useless, for the benefits it may provide in terms of inciting you to help your life for the better could be equally obtained — but of better quality — by accepting life and your ability to improve it. Keyword there: accepting. Reality just is, and you can choose to make a pain of it, or you can choose not to.
So now we have a clearly defined problem: minimizing regret. Why? Because since it is inversely proportional to fulfillment you’d be effectively maximizing fulfillment — or at least the potential of it.
The good part of minimizing regret is that the machinery in charge of generating it is one you have full control of. You choose what you regret and on what basis. For me, and I believe that for most people, regret about my choices has a component of efficiency. “Could I have taken a better way to achieve my goals?” It is a game of rationality. “Is there an even better optimum, a better analysis I could’ve had?” In contrast to this, regret about my conditions — things I cannot control — is something I don’t feel often, and when I feel it, I pretend I am not feeling it, since it is irrational, and then — paradoxically — regret having felt this regret in the first place. (Very healthy stuff, I’m aware.)
There are two ways in which I can minimize regret:
- Acting such that I never trigger my regret-detector
- Tweaking this regret-detector to never trigger
And for my particular situation, the former means thinking everything through to a point where not a single detail is left without consideration, while the latter is just choosing not to regret stuff, even when I find evidence that supports that a better choice could be taken.
I’m very much not a genius but one needn’t be to see which of the aforementioned is a more sensible choice.
Effectively minimizing regret to a zero, or at least get pretty darn close to it, entices a complete acceptance of your situation, your choices, and your abilities. This might again sound incredibly self-condescending but make no mistake, it is not. Being a decent person with yourself doesn’t mean pretending you’re perfect, quite the opposite. It is true that one way of achieving lots of things is being incredibly neurotic and not allowing yourself to fail or ever feel enough, but it is far from the only one or one of the better ways to. Profoundly understanding what makes you and what it means to be you, encompassing both your choices, abilities, and conditions, means becoming aware of what you can be if you only put the work. And like everything in life, getting better is work, hard work, and there’s no getting around it.