Every day there is cruelty somewhere in the world. Some days – as after the Texas church shooting – our hearts simply break. But the world also is full of kindness and care.
Our estimation of life is a matter of perspective. Optimism and pessimism depend on where we look. But what matters most is what you do. If you are sick of the bad news, turn off the television and go out and make some good news.
An old truism holds that the pessimist see the glass as half-empty while the optimist sees it as half-full. But active and engaged people don’t bother to measure the contents of their cups. They savor what they’ve got, drink it down, then go looking for a refill.
One name for this approach is meliorism. Meliorists want to make things better – to ameliorate them. Meliorists are pragmatists. They don’t ignore the evils of life. But they see setbacks as challenges to be overcome, rather than disasters that doom us to defeat.
There always are obstacles and work to be done. Pragmatists discover joy in that work. There is meaning and purpose in the process of planning, building and improving things.
BE NOT AFRAID OF LIFE. BELIEVE THAT LIFE IS WORTH LIVING,
AND YOUR BELIEF WILL HELP CREATE THE FACT.
This pragmatic philosophy is typically American. It is the guiding idea of American philosophers such as William James and John Dewey.
Dewey said, “Meliorism is the belief that the specific conditions which exist at one moment, be they comparatively bad or comparatively good, in any event may be bettered.” James explained, “Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact.”
This idea can also be found in the philosophical musings of Eleanor Roosevelt. She explained, “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for new and richer experience. You can do that only if you have curiosity, and an unquenchable spirit of adventure.”
This adventurous ethos makes sense in the context of our immigrant and pioneer heritage. People come to America to build and create, explore and grow. Pioneers and immigrants don’t rest at home, criticizing and complaining. They work and build. And if they don’t like things here, they move on to greener pastures.
Related to this is something we might call zest, gusto, or joie de vivre. The basic love of life fills active people with energy and enthusiasm. They awake in the morning eager to learn, explore and create.
Lack of energy breeds cynicism. The cynic fails to enjoy life. And so he judges and mocks those who do. But vivacious people don’t have time for cynicism. They are too busy living. And they improve life by embracing it with dynamism and imagination.
Pessimists will complain that energetic engagement with the world demands too much effort. Some pessimists see the need for work as a sign of an imperfect world. But this is lazy and short-sighted. Life requires labor. If you don’t work, you don’t eat. There is no way around this basic fact.
THE PURPOSE OF LIFE IS TO LIVE IT, TO TASTE EXPERIENCE TO THE UTMOST, TO REACH OUT EAGERLY AND WITHOUT FEAR FOR NEW AND RICHER EXPERIENCE. YOU CAN DO THAT ONLY IF YOU HAVE CURIOSITY, AND AN UNQUENCHABLE SPIRIT OF ADVENTURE. Eleanor Roosevelt
Pessimists are disappointed the world is not perfect. But a perfect world would be boring. It is the challenges in life that get the juices flowing. It is work that gives life meaning.
Optimism also involve intellectual laziness. The optimist’s rose-colored glasses screen out tragedy and loss. They look the other way, deliberately ignoring suffering and pain. But this is a recipe for disaster. If we ignore the evils of life, we will fail to take precautions to prevent them.
Loss and pain cannot be ignored. This world includes genuine evils. But sweat and tears provide the salt that helps us savor the sweet times. And kindness and care can make the world a better place.
A good life is never simply given to us. It is built on prudent planning, creative problem solving and hard work.
Optimists ignore the need for prudence, hoping things will turn out fine. Pessimists roll their eyes, disappointed that life requires effort. The rest of us – the majority of hard-working, pragmatic people – roll up our sleeves, wipe away the sweat and tears, and get back to work.
Technology promises infinite possibilities for improvement, while creating a challenge for happiness
Stoic wisdom encourages us to take the time to love and accept the world
Philosophical reflection on infertility, gender transition, and other technological innovations points toward deep questions about human life
We do not live in accord with nature. Never content to leave things alone, we tinker and experiment, invent and explore. Growth and innovation are the driving forces of the free world and the free market.
Technology has created previously unimagined possibilities. Bruce Jenner’s gender transition and Sofia Vergara’s frozen embryos are reminders of a new array of options, which create new ethical challenges. Gender and infertility were once viewed as fixed points of nature. Now they can be modified according to our own desires.
Hurray for freedom and ingenuity. But choice breeds discontent. When there is always room for modification it is difficult to accept the status quo.
Our technological prowess encourages us to dream of who we want to become. Our political liberty allows us to actualize our dreams. So we avoid reconciling ourselves to the flaws and faults of the world. Why accept our limitations, when we can overcome them through science?
Each consummation of happiness is fleeting. So we jump back on the treadmill, looking for other satisfactions, expecting something new, exciting, and different.
A sign of this is the experience of phantom phone vibration, an imagined pocket vibration, which feels like your phone is buzzing when it is not. Apparently, this is common. Ask a teenager for confirmation. We are so primed for diversion, so eager for new stimulus that we conjure it up for ourselves.
I worry that with each bit of instant technological gratification and each new choice, we forget that life includes boredom, sadness and grief—as well as joy and inspiration. In the end, our freedom will come to naught: there is no app for immortality. In a technologically mediated world, it is easy to ignore the natural, human processes of living, learning, loving and losing.
Of course, our lives are easier today. Technology is useful, in moderation. But the urge to improve must be supplemented with the wisdom that comes from being reconciled with the inherent imperfection of things.
Tranquility comes from learning to love the world as it is and accepting things as they are. This is a common refrain in the world’s wisdom traditions.
The ancient Stoics encouraged a life in accord with nature. A central lesson of Stoicism is the need to embrace life as it is—along with its fragility. The Stoic philosopher Epictetus said, “Don’t demand that things happen as you wish, but wish them to happen as they do.”
Wouldn’t it be great to love the world as it is, without qualification? Perhaps the best model is a mother’s love. A loving mother completely affirms the goodness of her child. She wants the child to grow and develop. But an adoring mother does not dream of a different child: she loves this one, with all of its beautiful blemishes.
Mindful acceptance of the world is the path to peace. This world exists here and now—as it is. We can tinker around the edges, but reality can’t be fundamentally changed. This body is what it is. It will continually age and degenerate. The people I share the world with are finite and flawed, like myself. I’m stuck with them, as I am stuck with myself. Mindful acceptance embraces flaws and faults along with beauty and charm, acknowledging that this is reality—messy, broken, and incomplete.
In our free and creative country there is ample opportunity for innovation. But there is a pressing need for unqualified love and serene acceptance. This is the only life we are privileged to live, the only world we will ever know.
Acceptance is difficult in a world of faultfinding pundits and dreamy advertisement. Our culture thrives on the idea that things could always be better. The hope for the better gives us a reason to roll up our sleeves and get to work. But work makes no sense without a Sabbath that consummates our efforts with an affirmation that loves the world.
Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/living/religion/article21117348.html#storylink=cpy
Boredom and loneliness are awful afflictions. Bored and lonely people bide their time in office cubicles and nursing homes. There have even been reports of people calling 911 simply to talk to someone. Boredom can lead people to kill time with dangerous and malicious activities. Loneliness easily becomes despair.
Love and responsibility provide a remedy. The cure for loneliness and boredom is found in ethical relations, in the cares, concerns and connections that make us fully human. We are curious social beings who need human connection and meaningful activity.
Consider, for a moment, an unfortunate inhabitant of a desert island. That lonely castaway would have no ethical obligations whatsoever. You can’t even be un-ethical on a desert island. To be a liar you need someone to talk to. You can’t cheat, steal, rape or murder when you are alone. Nor can you care, love, teach or learn. A moral life is a social life.
It is natural to dream of escaping from society. Adolescents long for a world without constraints. Busy adults occasionally dream of solitude and silence. But without a supporting social world to return to, solitary freedom becomes dreadful and desolate.
The horror of loneliness and boredom becomes clear when we recall that we use isolation and inaction to punish people — from kids on “time out” to criminals thrown into dungeons. Even dogs get bored and lonely when left home all day.
It is true that there is much to be learned from being alone and mindfully doing nothing. We can be refreshed by meditation, by silent retreats or by hiking alone in the woods. But solitude should properly inspire solicitude and renew our social lives. Voluntary seclusion is quite different from the loneliness and boredom of those who are abandoned and excluded.
Some people confuse freedom with happiness. We often celebrate the free, unencumbered individual — the carefree traveler who roams the world without loyalties, limits or cares. But freedom without responsibility is lonely. Friendships and families are destroyed by those who refuse to limit their freedom and commit to the constraints of social life.
Boredom is also the result of too much freedom. Boredom arises when we have too much time, too many choices, and not enough responsibility. Those who must balance a variety of social duties don’t have time to be bored. Duty and obligation may be irritating and difficult; but they rarely leave us bored.
It is true that we quickly tire of dull, repetitive drudgery. But the worst kind of boredom is experienced by those who have nothing to do and all day to do it. This is why unemployment is devitalizing. It is no surprise that those who are lonely and bored turn to drugs, alcohol or sexual promiscuity, looking for short-term fixes to their existential problem.
We also turn to the flickering images of the digital world for a substitute for social connection. Television and other media provide a surrogate social experience. Many of us know more about the characters in our favorite shows than we know about our neighbors. We may not feel lonely in the digital age. But watching other people — fictional people — live is a lonely substitute for actual social life.
The punishment of being expelled from Eden was the need to work for a living and raise children. The moral is this: when we are engaged in productive work and burdened with social responsibilities, there is no time for boredom or mischief.
If we do not want to be bored and alone, we must constrain our freedom by making commitments and taking on obligations. We are social animals who find meaning and purpose in responsibility, in caring for others, and in work. So the next time you feel bored or lonely, make a commitment, take on a burden or create a social obligation. A good way to start would be to turn off the TV and reach out to someone who is as lonely and bored as you are.
Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2015/01/09/4322697_ethics-fight-boredom-and-loneliness.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy
You’ve seen T-shirts, posters, and even band-aids emblazoned with peace signs, hearts, and smiley faces. Bumper-sticker wisdom, building upon the idealism of the 1960s, affirms what we might call ‘the hippy trinity’: peace, love, and happiness. We suspect that if we were more peaceful and loving, we would be happier. And if we were happy, it would be easier to love others and live in peace with them. One source for this idea may be the Apostle Paul, who said in his New Testament letter to the Galatians that the fruits of the Spirit include love, joy, and peace. A more contemporary source is the blues and hip-hop artist G. Love. One lyric from his song ‘Peace, Love, and Happiness’ is:
“I got no time to worry
About troubles or misgivings
You got to let it flow, let yourself go
‘Cause if you’re hating, then you sure ain’t living
Give me some Peace, Love, and Happiness”
The Beatles made it simpler, asserting that “love is all you need.” John Lennon asked that we “give peace a chance.” Pharell Williams more recently sang that “happiness is the truth.”
Unfortunately, pop poetry can only take us so far. The optimism of San Francisco’s Summer of Love runs aground on the wisdom of Athens, Jerusalem, and Bodh Gaya (where the Buddha is said to have obtained Enlightenment). The world’s major philosophical and religious traditions tell us that life remains tragic and difficult, and that peace, love, and happiness are never easily found. Peace, love, and happiness are also in conflict with other values, such as self-sufficiency, liberty, and justice. Smiles and hugs cannot end war, eliminate religious and ethnic conflict, nor cure psychopathology. Most of the world’s traditions therefore admit that the goal of uniting peace, love, and happiness creates a difficult and chronic, even eternal, project.
One difficulty, perhaps impossible to surmount, is the fact that the conjunction of peace, love, and happiness contains internal contradictions. Consider the fact that love may require violence: love may oblige me to fight to defend my loved ones. Indeed, love of country or of God may inspire war. Love may also lead to unhappiness: for instance, the lover suffers when the beloved dies. To love is to open oneself to grief and loss. And love easily becomes jealous and vengeful. It is no wonder that the Stoics advised equanimity and emotional self-control rather than passionate love. Tranquility is not easily cultivated when love inflames the heart.
Peace may also result in unhappiness. Those who are defeated by cruel oppressors may lay down their arms. But forced submission creates an unhappy peace that conflicts with the value of liberty. Even apart from the ‘peace’ of the pacified slave, there is no denying that peace is often achieved by sacrificing other important values. We may choose to give up on legitimate claims for justice, reparation, or respect in the name of peace. Moreover, Nietzsche argued that peace was merely the pallid dream of the mediocre, while powerful men were inspired by danger, adventure, and war.
Happiness is also complicated. A certain sort of happiness develops from the single-minded pursuit of one’s aims. The creative joy of the artist, inventor, or genius often comes at the expense of those she loves. Although Aristotle thought that happiness included social virtues, he also believed that self-reliant contemplation was the highest form of happiness. The self-reliant individual finds happiness alone: he loves the truth, but does not necessarily love other human beings. And for some people, happiness is linked to competition, victory, and domination. We know for example that victory and domination give men a satisfying boost of testosterone. One source of war, conflict, murder, and misery, is the ugly fact that violence makes some people happy.
To resolve these difficulties we need to think deeply and clearly about the meaning of peace, love, and happiness. It may seem mean-spirited to spoil the buzz of the blissfully smiling hippy dreamer whistling Bobby McFerrin’s ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’. Life is hard, and if people find peace, love, and happiness in a song or a slogan, we ought not begrudge them their slice of heaven. But the demands of ethics should make it difficult to smile in a world of pain and injustice. Common sense reminds us that blissful moments do not last long, and a bit of reflection reminds us that our happiness to an extent rests upon the backs of those who slave in fields and sweatshops. Is anyone entitled to peace, love, and happiness in a world in which children are raped, where slavery continues, and where species go extinct at the hands of humanity?
The problem of the suffering of others is a central concern for both theists and Buddhists. Leszek Kolakowski once asked in an essay, ‘Is God Happy?’ He pointed out that a just and loving God must be incredibly sad to see the suffering of humanity. Kolakowski also argues that the Buddha would be deeply unhappy to know that most of the world remains bound to the wheel of suffering. However, contemporary Western images of Buddhism often portray it as providing a personal path to peace, love, and happiness. For example, Mathieu Ricard, a Buddhist monk of French origin, is touted as the world’s happiest man, and his books are marketed in such a way that they appear to provide a recipe for personal happiness and peace. Ricard himself, however, makes it clear that the key to happiness is practice, discipline, and compassionate concern for the suffering of others. We shouldn’t forget that Buddhism begins with the assumption that life is suffering! Or consider another popular Buddhist author, Thich Nhat Hanh. As Hanh explains, “the mind of love brings peace, joy, and happiness to ourselves and others” (Wisdom from Peace Is Every Step, 2005). This sounds simple, but it takes years of training to develop a mind of love, inner peace, and joyful compassion. Buddhist practice is not merely selfish navel-gazing. Indeed, it can lead to anguished engagement with an oppressive and violent world – as witnessed by the monks who immolate themselves in protest against repressive regimes in Tibet and elsewhere. The fact that a religion of peace, love, and happiness leads to suicidal protest in the face of oppression gives much food for thought.
Christianity provides a similar source of contemplation. The turmoil, sadness, suffering and cruelty of the cross are an essential part of the Christian story. We noted already that Paul imagined the unity of peace, love, and happiness in the life of the Spirit; but like Jesus himself, Paul was arrested and executed.
For Christians, peace, love, and happiness are ultimately found far beyond the tumult of earthly life, death, and politics. Saint Augustine argued in his book The City of God (426) that happiness and peace cannot be found in this life. He contrasts Christian wisdom with that of the earlier Greek philosophers, the Epicureans, Stoics, and Cynics, who maintained that happiness could be produced in this life by philosophical reflection. Augustine claimed that worldly happiness was insufficient, and that eternal happiness, lasting peace, and true love were only possible in union with God, only fully achievable in the afterlife. For Christians, the path to peace, love, and happiness passes through and beyond this world of wickedness, sin, and suffering.
Is A World Of Peace, Love & Happiness Possible?
The Greeks criticized by Augustine thought otherwise. Epicurus (341-270 BC), for example, taught that a simple life, withdrawn from the tumult of politics, and spent in the company of loving friends, could be peaceful and happy. Epicurus also maintained that to enjoy peace and happiness you must cultivate justice, since injustice produces social conflict. But, Epicurus added, if you want to be happy and find peace, you should avoid political life and its stressful and dangerous entanglements.
There are clear Epicurean elements in the hippy dream – especially in the idea that simple living apart from the mainstream is the key to peace, love, and happiness. The problem, however, is that Epicureans can be accused of free-riding. Is it right to retreat to your garden while the outside world is plagued by war, hate, and sorrow?
In response to this problem, the Stoics maintained that we have a duty to serve society. So Stoics sacrifice their own peace, love, and happiness for the good of the many. For instance, the Stoic Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor from 161-180 AD, would have preferred to stay home with his loved ones and develop himself as a philosopher, but his political obligations led him to sacrifice his health and tranquility for the good of Rome.
Building upon the political perspective, we might note – as Steven Pinker has argued recently in his book,The Better Angels of our Nature (2011) – that peace, love, and happiness are the result of civilizing processes, including military and police power. In other words, Westerners can enjoy peace, love, and happiness because our borders are secure, our homes are comfortable, our economies run smoothly, and our institutions are stable. Sadly, the same cannot be said for many others across the globe.
The peace, love, and happiness celebrated in counter-cultural songs and bumper-stickers may rest upon European and American military, economic, and social power. Nonetheless, many advocates of the peace-love-happiness trinity are critical of police power, military force, and obedience and conformity. Some argue that the structures of imperialistic and militaristic civilization are internally contradictory – that they create the very ills they claim to solve. So peace is undermined by preparation for war. Love is destroyed by oppressive hierarchies. Happiness is subverted by the demands of work, conformity, and bureaucracy. But it may be that military power, obedience, hierarchy, and conformity are essential for peace, love, and happiness. It may be that best place to find peace, love, and happiness is in Epicurean gardens nestled safely in the heartland of an empire.
These and other disquieting thoughts arise when we begin thinking about peace, love, and happiness. While a simplistic faith or naïve fantasy can satisfy some, the moment you begin thinking, you wonder whether the beautiful dream of peace, love, and happiness is ever a real possibility for fragile, mortal, thinking beings who live in a cruel and tragic world. It might therefore be that those who philosophize recognize that peace, love, and happiness are nearly impossible to achieve. And yet one can’t help but imagine that John Lennon was on to something when he sang of his dream of “living life in peace”:
“You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one.”