Tagged: good life

Paradoksi hämmensi filosofin: Parempi elämä ei olekaan hyvää elämää

Lähes päivittäin kävelen Kolmannella linjalla sijaitsevan Good Life Coffeen ohitse. Jotenkin nimi aina särähtää. Onko hyvä elämä tosiaan sitä, että juo vain aeropress-keittimellä valmistettua pienpaahtimokahvia?

Kysymys hyvästä elämästä on ihmiselämän perimmäisin kysymys. ’Hyvä elämä’ on ilmaisu, jota filosofi käyttää harvoin ja vain painavista syistä. Ehkä Sokrates eli hyvän elämän. Tai Gandhi. Tai Nelson Mandela. Mutta on vähän arveluttavaa antaa ’hyvän elämän’ arvonimi meidän tavallisten ihmisten elämille.

Toisaalta joillekin ’living the good life’ tarkoittaa suihkuseurapiirien elämänrytmiä, jossa shampanja virtaa, uima-allas täyttyy treenatuista vartaloista ja toiletin kraanat ovat kullattuja. Tämänkaltainen ’hyvä elämä’ on eksklusiivista elämää. Eliitti saa juhlia rauhassa, koska tavallinen kansa on eristetty vähintäänkin yhden ovimiehen taakse. Hyvä elämä tarkoittaa tässä tapauksessa sitä, että meidän ryhmällämme on ’paremmat bileet’ kuin muilla. Nopeammat autot, kauniimmat puolisot, ylellisemmät hotellit ja kalliimmat huumausaineet.

Toinen hyvän elämän muoto on elegantti elämä. Connoisseur tuntee rypäleet ja turpeen laadut ja hyväksyy vain sofistikoituneimmat viinivalinnat. Jos puhutaan kahveista, hän muistuttaa, että ”laatukahveissa on enemmän vivahteita kuin viinissä” ja naurahtaa kepeän ylimielisesti cappuccinojaan ryystävälle tuulipukukansalle. Kun puhe kääntyy musiikkiin, on hän juuri löytänyt jonkin Kanadalaisen indie-bändin, josta kukaan muu ei vielä ole kuullut. Jos joku erehtyy laittamaan Radio Novan soimaan, connoisseur vääntää melkein suuttuneena valitsimen takaisin Basso-radion tai radio Helsingin taajuudelle. Hipsterin esteettinen vaisto on aina askeleen muita edellä.

Molempien elämäntapojen kohdalla ilmaisu ’hyvä elämä’ on kuitenkin väärä. Kyse ei ole hyvästä elämästä, vaan ’paremmasta elämästä’. Molempien elämäntapojen hyvyys määrittyy suhteessa tavalliseen kansaan. Meillä on upeammat puitteet tai sofistikoituneempi maku kuin noilla muilla. Elämästä tulee kilpajuoksu, jossa mitellään siitä, kuka nauttii eniten. Erona on lähinnä se, että toisessa nautinnot ovat pinnallisempia ja toisessa elegantteja.

Filosofi näkee molemmat elämäntavat oireina. Ne kertovat kyvyttömyydestä löytää itsenäinen arvo omalle elämälleen. Ne ovat vastuun pakenemista. Vaikka oma elämä tuntuisi aika ajoin tyhjältä ja merkityksettömältä, niin ainakin se on parempi kuin noiden toisten elämä. ”Raha ei ehkä tee onnelliseksi, mutta itken mieluummin Jaguaarissa kuin bussissa”, kuten Françoise Sagan kuolemattomasti on todennut. Sen sijaan, että etsisi omaa hyvää elämää, keskittyy huomio taisteluun paikasta nokkimisjärjestyksen ylemmillä askelmilla.

Vertailuun perustuvassa hyvässä elämässä on kuitenkin kaksi ongelmaa:

1) Aina on joku, jolla on jotain enemmän kuin sinulla. Vaikka olisit maailman rikkain mies, on jollakulla kutsu juhliin, joihin sinua ei ole kutsuttu. Vertailuun perustuva elämä on epätäydellistä, koska et koskaan ole kaikilla kriteereillä paras. Olet aina joltakin osin vajaa.

2) Elät jonkun toisen unelmaa, et omaasi. Niin kauan kun rakennat elämääsi sen varaan, että teet parempia valintoja kuin jotkut toiset, niin kauan olet statuskamppailun vanki. Muut määrittävät ne standardit, joiden sisällä pyrit menestymään. Ja se ei ole tie kestävään onnellisuuteen.

Kestävämpi hyvän elämän malli löytyy vain sitä kautta, että opettelet irtautumaan muiden asettamista statuskamppailuista ja keskityt siihen, mitä itse haluat elämälläsi tehdä. Se tarkoittaa ensinnäkin sitä, että opettelet kuuntelemaan itseäsi ja omia autenttisia tarpeitasi. Se on haastavaa, koska omaa ääntä on vaikeata kuulla sen kaiken pauhunnan takaa, jota mainonta ja TV ympäristöömme suoltavat. Mutta kyllä se siellä on. Kun pääset kosketuksiin oman sisäisen nörttisi kanssa, olet kosketuksissa sen hyvän elämän kanssa, joka sopii juuri sinulle. Se ei aina ole muita ’parempaa elämää’, mutta se on sinulle hyvä elämä.

Tuleva eliitti juhlii hillitysti

What are the ways that a life can be good? There are three of them

What makes a life good? The question is quite broad, we can admit that. One might answer by listing nice things; a cappuccino at a pleasant café on a Sunday afternoon, a gathering of good friends at the summer cottage and so forth. But there is also a deeper question: What do we mean by good life anyway? Or rather, what are the ways that a life can be good?

This question has haunted me but only when I read Dan Haybron’s book The Pursuit of Unhappiness did I find an answer that would appeal to me. He suggested that there would be essentially three different ways that a life could be good and these dimensions are well-being, morality and aesthetics. Let’s look what is meant by them.

Firstly life can be good simply by feeling good from my point of view. So we could say that a good life is a life that is good for me. A good life is a life that we have a positive feeling about. Some might call this happiness but I feel that it is a too narrow concept. Well-being covers better the broad array of ways through which a life can feel good for a person. In any case, one’s own well-being is a quite straight-forward way through which one’s life can be good.

But we can also say that someone’s life is good from the moral point of view. A certain life can be good disregarding one’s own feelings about it if one has been able to make a positive contribution to the world through one’s actions. Someone might sacrifice his or her own happiness for the sake of others and thus decrease the goodness of that life from the well-being perspective. At the same time, however, that life has reached a certain nobleness as regards morality.

Thirdly, the life of a person can be aesthetically pleasing. We can read a tragic story of someone who suffered immensely within his or her life, did the wrong choices and caused misery to those around him or her. This life might not be good from the well-being perspective nor from the moral perspective. Yet there might still be some aesthetic value in the life; it might demonstrate a certain tragic beauty.

It is easy to see that these three ways to look at good life are independent from each other. The same life can be good within one perspective but lacking in others. We can demonstrate this by looking at four persons, let’s call them Arthur, Bertha, Cecilia and David.

Arthur is an arrogant guy who knows how to make the life pleasant for himself but at the same time doesn’t care at all about the well-being of others. For him others are just instruments to be used for his own pleasures. His life might (although even this can be doubted) be good from the first perspective but bad from the second and indifferent from the third.

Bertha, in turn, has given up everything to fulfill a duty of helping the poor in some remote corner of earth. For her this duty is a heavy burden and she is not really happy out there. In addition, her life might be so repetitious that it doesn’t make an aesthetically pleasing story either. But from the moral point of view we could say that she lived an exemplary life.

Cecilia is then this tragic girl who was born into poverty, was ill most of her life, stole things to come by and even murdered someone under obscure conditions before killing herself after the love of her life abandoned her. Happiness and morality were absent from her life. Yet there might still be some tremendous beauty present in her melancholic life story.

David then is mister Right. He always does the right thing; he has cool hobbies, engaging work, perfect wife and three kids to be proud of. In addition, he is friendly towards everybody, does voluntary work in some NGO and helps the poorer kids of the neighborhood to get a good education. His well-being is excellent and his morality intact. But nobody wants to make a movie out of his life because there is not a single flaw in it that would make it interesting. Aesthetically, his life is boring.

The question about good life is the most fundamental question that a human being can ask. When you ask it the next time remember that there are three different ways to answer it. What dimension is your strength and what is your weakness?

Is there a dimension that is missing from here? How do these three dimensions resonate with your life? Share your comment!What makes a life good? The question is quite broad, we can admit that. One might answer by listing nice things; a cappuccino at a pleasant café on a Sunday afternoon, a gathering of good friends at the summer cottage and so forth. But there is also a deeper question: What do we mean by good life anyway? Or rather, what are the ways that a life can be good?

This question has haunted me but only when I read Dan Haybron’s book The Pursuit of Unhappiness did I find an answer that would appeal to me. He suggested that there would be essentially three different ways that a life could be good and these dimensions are well-being, morality and aesthetics. Let’s look what is meant by them.

Firstly life can be good simply by feeling good from my point of view. So we could say that a good life is a life that is good for me. A good life is a life that we have a positive feeling about. Some might call this happiness but I feel that it is a too narrow concept. Well-being covers better the broad array of ways through which a life can feel good for a person. In any case, one’s own well-being is a quite straight-forward way through which one’s life can be good.

But we can also say that someone’s life is good from the moral point of view. A certain life can be good disregarding one’s own feelings about it if one has been able to make a positive contribution to the world through one’s actions. Someone might sacrifice his or her own happiness for the sake of others and thus decrease the goodness of that life from the well-being perspective. At the same time, however, that life has reached a certain nobleness as regards morality.

Thirdly, the life of a person can be aesthetically pleasing. We can read a tragic story of someone who suffered immensely within his or her life, did the wrong choices and caused misery to those around him or her. This life might not be good from the well-being perspective nor from the moral perspective. Yet there might still be some aesthetic value in the life; it might demonstrate a certain tragic beauty.

It is easy to see that these three ways to look at good life are independent from each other. The same life can be good within one perspective but lacking in others. We can demonstrate this by looking at four persons, let’s call them Arthur, Bertha, Cecilia and David.

Arthur is an arrogant guy who knows how to make the life pleasant for himself but at the same time doesn’t care at all about the well-being of others. For him others are just instruments to be used for his own pleasures. His life might (although even this can be doubted) be good from the first perspective but bad from the second and indifferent from the third.

Bertha, in turn, has given up everything to fulfill a duty of helping the poor in some remote corner of earth. For her this duty is a heavy burden and she is not really happy out there. In addition, her life might be so repetitious that it doesn’t make an aesthetically pleasing story either. But from the moral point of view we could say that she lived an exemplary life.

Cecilia is then this tragic girl who was born into poverty, was ill most of her life, stole things to come by and even murdered someone under obscure conditions before killing herself after the love of her life abandoned her. Happiness and morality were absent from her life. Yet there might still be some tremendous beauty present in her melancholic life story.

David then is mister Right. He always does the right thing; he has cool hobbies, engaging work, perfect wife and three kids to be proud of. In addition, he is friendly towards everybody, does voluntary work in some NGO and helps the poorer kids of the neighborhood to get a good education. His well-being is excellent and his morality intact. But nobody wants to make a movie out of his life because there is not a single flaw in it that would make it interesting. Aesthetically, his life is boring.

The question about good life is the most fundamental question that a human being can ask. When you ask it the next time remember that there are three different ways to answer it. What dimension is your strength and what is your weakness?

Is there a dimension that is missing from here? How do these three dimensions resonate with your life? Share your comment!

What is the most fundamental question in life? Hint: It is not about meaning of life or about what exists fundamentally

Have you ever wondered what is the most fundamental question for you or for any human being? There are a few candidates but in the end only one stands a closer scrutiny. The nominees that come most readily in mind are the classic questions about the origin of the world, about what exists fundamentally and about the meaning of life. Mesmerizing as they are, they nevertheless aren’t the most fundamental for us.

The two first-mentioned questions could be understood as questions about the nature of the universe. Where did it come from and what is it like? Other way to put them would be to ask in what kind of world do we live in? The reason they are bad candidates as the fundamental question for us human beings is that they haven’t given adequate attention to the one asking these questions, the human being itself. If we would be eternal, disengaged and god-like creatures then that kind of noble question might be worthy of our attention. But instead we have a limited time here on earth, we care about our faith and therefore we have to choose carefully how we spend that restricted time. Devoting oneself to answering these questions means that one has made a choice in which one has given priority to this activity instead of – for example – trying to find a cure for cancer or be a good father to one’s children.

We are thrown into a world in which we need to act. As sociologist Hans Joas has put it: ”Action is the way in which human beings exist in the world.” Every moment we make a choice about what we do. Whether we want it or not, we have every second the possibility to act in a multitude of ways. Therefore the most fundamental question for any human being is about what to do. What to do right now and more generally within one’s life. All the other ’fundamental’ questions are only derivatives of this more general question. For example, finding the meaning of life, true nature of happiness, reason for the existence of the universe, whether god exists, what is morally right and wrong and so forth would give us good reasons to act in certain rather than other ways. But all of them can only answer subquestions such as what to do, given religion, or what to do, given our interest in our own happiness. What we need to answer, however, is what to do, given all.

Other way to phrase the same question is to ask ’How to live a good life?’ This is so for the simple reason that we have an interest in living in better rather than worse ways. Already Socrates recognized this to be the most fundamental of all questions. For the great philosophers of ancient Greece, the question about good living formed the most fundamental question of all philosophy. The aim of philosophy was not theoretical but about aiding people in their quest to live a good life.

Curious fact about the question of good life is that every single human being answers it but only a small amount of people ask it seriously. This is because we answer it through the way we actually live. Your life is at every moment your best answer to the question of good life. You can’t escape your life and therefore you can’t escape answering this question through your way of living. The problem is that if you haven’t answered the question yourself then somebody has answered it for you. You are either guided by values and needs chosen by you or then you are guided by values, desires, wishes and so forth that the surrounding culture and media has given you.

The most important step towards a good life is to start taking responsibility for it. This means that you start to seriously consider whether the model of good life that you are living today is really what you would have wanted to choose. It means that you start to seriously think what is the best way to live given your unique personality and situation. Carving your own values and path of good living doesn’t happen in a day. It requires long-term engagement in serious reflection and dialogue with other people. But then again, the reward is the best there can be: A good life designed just for you!

Children playingHave you ever wondered what is the most fundamental question for you or for any human being? There are a few candidates but in the end only one stands a closer scrutiny. The nominees that come most readily in mind are the classic questions about the origin of the world, about what exists fundamentally and about the meaning of life. Mesmerizing as they are, they nevertheless aren’t the most fundamental for us.

The two first-mentioned questions could be understood as questions about the nature of the universe. Where did it come from and what is it like? Other way to put them would be to ask in what kind of world do we live in? The reason they are bad candidates as the fundamental question for us human beings is that they haven’t given adequate attention to the one asking these questions, the human being itself. If we would be eternal, disengaged and god-like creatures then that kind of noble question might be worthy of our attention. But instead we have a limited time here on earth, we care about our faith and therefore we have to choose carefully how we spend that restricted time. Devoting oneself to answering these questions means that one has made a choice in which one has given priority to this activity instead of – for example – trying to find a cure for cancer or be a good father to one’s children.

We are thrown into a world in which we need to act. As sociologist Hans Joas has put it: ”Action is the way in which human beings exist in the world.” Every moment we make a choice about what we do. Whether we want it or not, we have every second the possibility to act in a multitude of ways. Therefore the most fundamental question for any human being is about what to do. What to do right now and more generally within one’s life. All the other ’fundamental’ questions are only derivatives of this more general question. For example, finding the meaning of life, true nature of happiness, reason for the existence of the universe, whether god exists, what is morally right and wrong and so forth would give us good reasons to act in certain rather than other ways. But all of them can only answer subquestions such as what to do, given religion, or what to do, given our interest in our own happiness. What we need to answer, however, is what to do, given all.

Other way to phrase the same question is to ask ’How to live a good life?’ This is so for the simple reason that we have an interest in living in better rather than worse ways. Already Socrates recognized this to be the most fundamental of all questions. For the great philosophers of ancient Greece, the question about good living formed the most fundamental question of all philosophy. The aim of philosophy was not theoretical but about aiding people in their quest to live a good life.

Curious fact about the question of good life is that every single human being answers it but only a small amount of people ask it seriously. This is because we answer it through the way we actually live. Your life is at every moment your best answer to the question of good life. You can’t escape your life and therefore you can’t escape answering this question through your way of living. The problem is that if you haven’t answered the question yourself then somebody has answered it for you. You are either guided by values and needs chosen by you or then you are guided by values, desires, wishes and so forth that the surrounding culture and media has given you.

The most important step towards a good life is to start taking responsibility for it. This means that you start to seriously consider whether the model of good life that you are living today is really what you would have wanted to choose. It means that you start to seriously think what is the best way to live given your unique personality and situation. Carving your own values and path of good living doesn’t happen in a day. It requires long-term engagement in serious reflection and dialogue with other people. But then again, the reward is the best there can be: A good life designed just for you!

Children playing

Why are you sweating your ass off in work when you could be fishing right now?

Have you heard the famous story about a Harvard business graduate and a poor fisherman? If not, start by reading it. Because already twice this trip I have felt that I’ve met a living example from that story. Yesterday, finding myself in the home of a twenty-something fisherman on the small coral island of Caye Caulker and learning that he goes fishing three or four times a week I asked what does he do on the other days. ”Hang out with friends, eat good food, drink some rum, go partying, hook up with girls, have sex” was his answer.

I would imagine that many young guys would dream about that kind of simple life filled with earthly pleasures and taking place on the stunningly beautiful Caribbean coast of Belize. But if you find that kind of lifestyle attractive ask yourself why are you not living it?

The 'Budgetman' selling lobster on the main road of Caye Caulker

For most of the young western guys living that dream would be possible: There seemed to be plenty of fish in the ocean and the skill needed to get it up from there is not exactly any rocket science. Besides, living in Belize is cheap compared to western countries so one can make ends meet with going out fishing only a few times a week. Many western travelers staying on the island were saying that living here is awesome and that they would like to stay for a longer time – yet everyone of them were going back home to get back into the corporate treadmill. What is holding us back? I’ll tell you in a minute.

The second encounter with happy fishermen was perhaps even more ’authentic’ and happened in the tiny, remote and rural village of Orinoco on the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua where I was the only tourist. Observing their daily living I couldn’t help but being impressed by their life. Here they are, living in extreme poverty by all Western standards. Yet they don’t seem to be lacking much: their food is good by any standard – fresh seafood, organic fruits and vegetables -, they live close to their extended families and friends with a strong sense of community, and the weather is pleasant. And above all, to achieve this lifestyle they work much less hours per day than we ’wealthy’ westerners.

The reason me and other travelers impressed by the coastal lifestyle of Nicaragua and Belize are not relocating is that the western standards of proper living have an internal hold of us. I couldn’t enjoy being a fisherman in the long run, despite the beauty of that way of living. Why? Because certain sense of progress, achievement and career advancement is lacking from that life. With that way of living I would ’already be there’ and we in the west are told that what we want in life is always ’behind the next achievement’. Ours is a world of go-getters, hunger is what keeps the wheels greased. Be a tiger, not a happy sloth! It is this attitude we carry in our souls even on our vacations. We are able to chill out only because we know that it is only a temporary break-off from the ’real life’. And real life is a life where you should have a clear sense of progress.

Living the simple life in Orinoco

There was not a trace of this strive for achievement in the village of Orinoco – they were happy to work only to the extent that they have some food on the table. Some days a few hours, on others more, some days not at all. And on Caye Caulker the fellow tourists I met were all telling how the slow pace and chilled out atmosphere grows on you from the moment you step your foot on the island. They learned not to look at the watch and many of them realized at some point that they had spent much more days on the island than they had planned for. Yet when their time was up they returned to their home countries with the more achievement-oriented lifestyle again grabbing a hold of them.

So what is the takeaway? Am I suggesting that every western person should break the chains our culture has captured us with and escape into a more easy, less stressed and happier lifestyle? If I would, I would be practicing hypocrisy because I myself am still possessed with a strong urge to achieve something in my life. But awakening to the knowledge that there are alternatives available is relieving in itself. With alternatives in view one can take a more relaxed attitude towards one’s choice of living. If at some point I realize that I am not achieving what I want to achieve that is not the end of the world. Winning the rat race is not the only way towards fulfillment. By changing the way I want to live my life I can be as happy or even happier in that new situation.

And most importantly, when you truly realize the existence of other ways of living you loose your innocence. From that moment onwards you are making a conscious choice about which of the alternatives you are committing yourself to. I know that with enough time spent on this island I could internalize its way of living and from that moment onwards the western striving would seem alien to me. So change is possible even thought it requires time and effort. The fact that I am not trying to change is already a choice, a commitment to my current way of living. So ask yourself, is life of ease your cup of tea or are you willing to consciously commit yourself to a more stressing lifestyle of pursuit?Have you heard the famous story about a Harvard business graduate and a poor fisherman? If not, start by reading it. Because already twice this trip I have felt that I’ve met a living example from that story. Yesterday, finding myself in the home of a twenty-something fisherman on the small coral island of Caye Caulker and learning that he goes fishing three or four times a week I asked what does he do on the other days. ”Hang out with friends, eat good food, drink some rum, go partying, hook up with girls, have sex” was his answer.

I would imagine that many young guys would dream about that kind of simple life filled with earthly pleasures and taking place on the stunningly beautiful Caribbean coast of Belize. But if you find that kind of lifestyle attractive ask yourself why are you not living it?

The 'Budgetman' selling lobster on the main road of Caye Caulker

For most of the young western guys living that dream would be possible: There seemed to be plenty of fish in the ocean and the skill needed to get it up from there is not exactly any rocket science. Besides, living in Belize is cheap compared to western countries so one can make ends meet with going out fishing only a few times a week. Many western travelers staying on the island were saying that living here is awesome and that they would like to stay for a longer time – yet everyone of them were going back home to get back into the corporate treadmill. What is holding us back? I’ll tell you in a minute.

The second encounter with happy fishermen was perhaps even more ’authentic’ and happened in the tiny, remote and rural village of Orinoco on the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua where I was the only tourist. Observing their daily living I couldn’t help but being impressed by their life. Here they are, living in extreme poverty by all Western standards. Yet they don’t seem to be lacking much: their food is good by any standard – fresh seafood, organic fruits and vegetables -, they live close to their extended families and friends with a strong sense of community, and the weather is pleasant. And above all, to achieve this lifestyle they work much less hours per day than we ’wealthy’ westerners.

The reason me and other travelers impressed by the coastal lifestyle of Nicaragua and Belize are not relocating is that the western standards of proper living have an internal hold of us. I couldn’t enjoy being a fisherman in the long run, despite the beauty of that way of living. Why? Because certain sense of progress, achievement and career advancement is lacking from that life. With that way of living I would ’already be there’ and we in the west are told that what we want in life is always ’behind the next achievement’. Ours is a world of go-getters, hunger is what keeps the wheels greased. Be a tiger, not a happy sloth! It is this attitude we carry in our souls even on our vacations. We are able to chill out only because we know that it is only a temporary break-off from the ’real life’. And real life is a life where you should have a clear sense of progress.

Living the simple life in Orinoco

There was not a trace of this strive for achievement in the village of Orinoco – they were happy to work only to the extent that they have some food on the table. Some days a few hours, on others more, some days not at all. And on Caye Caulker the fellow tourists I met were all telling how the slow pace and chilled out atmosphere grows on you from the moment you step your foot on the island. They learned not to look at the watch and many of them realized at some point that they had spent much more days on the island than they had planned for. Yet when their time was up they returned to their home countries with the more achievement-oriented lifestyle again grabbing a hold of them.

So what is the takeaway? Am I suggesting that every western person should break the chains our culture has captured us with and escape into a more easy, less stressed and happier lifestyle? If I would, I would be practicing hypocrisy because I myself am still possessed with a strong urge to achieve something in my life. But awakening to the knowledge that there are alternatives available is relieving in itself. With alternatives in view one can take a more relaxed attitude towards one’s choice of living. If at some point I realize that I am not achieving what I want to achieve that is not the end of the world. Winning the rat race is not the only way towards fulfillment. By changing the way I want to live my life I can be as happy or even happier in that new situation.

And most importantly, when you truly realize the existence of other ways of living you loose your innocence. From that moment onwards you are making a conscious choice about which of the alternatives you are committing yourself to. I know that with enough time spent on this island I could internalize its way of living and from that moment onwards the western striving would seem alien to me. So change is possible even thought it requires time and effort. The fact that I am not trying to change is already a choice, a commitment to my current way of living. So ask yourself, is life of ease your cup of tea or are you willing to consciously commit yourself to a more stressing lifestyle of pursuit?

The classic story about a Harvard business graduate and a poor Mexican fisherman

On his well-earned holiday, a Harvard business graduate watched how a small fishing boat approached the harbor in a small coastal Mexican village. It was still late morning but the boat was full of fish so he asked how long time did it take to catch them?
”A few hours.”
”And what are you going to do now?”
”You know, the usual: Play around with my kids, have some quality time with my wife during the siesta. Stroll around the village in the evening hanging out with my amigos, drinking some wine, playing my guitar.”

Upon hearing this the successful business man knew that he could help the poor fellow:
”You know, I am a Harvard business graduate. If you follow my advice you could change your life!”
”What do you mean?”
”With that amount of fishing you can support your current lifestyle, right?”
”Yes, quite much so.”
”Then, if you would work also the afternoons you could use the gained extra money for investments. Soon you could by another boat and hire some guys to run it. Your revenues would increase again and soon you would be operating a fleet of fishing boats.”
”And then what?”
”Then you could leave the fishing to the others and concentrate on the business part. You could cut out the middle man by selling directly to American distributors. You would of course have to relocate to LA or New York but that would be a necessary sacrifice for the success that awaits you.”
”And then what?”
”By working hard you could be a millionaire in twenty or so years.”
”And then what?”
”Then comes the best part: You would sell it all, cash in the money and retire into a small coastal fishing village where you could just play around with your kids, have some quality time with your wife, stroll around the village in the evenings and hang out with your friends, drinking some wine and playing the guitar.”On his well-earned holiday, a Harvard business graduate watched how a small fishing boat approached the harbor in a small coastal Mexican village. It was still late morning but the boat was full of fish so he asked how long time did it take to catch them?
”A few hours.”
”And what are you going to do now?”
”You know, the usual: Play around with my kids, have some quality time with my wife during the siesta. Stroll around the village in the evening hanging out with my amigos, drinking some wine, playing my guitar.”

Upon hearing this the successful business man knew that he could help the poor fellow:
”You know, I am a Harvard business graduate. If you follow my advice you could change your life!”
”What do you mean?”
”With that amount of fishing you can support your current lifestyle, right?”
”Yes, quite much so.”
”Then, if you would work also the afternoons you could use the gained extra money for investments. Soon you could by another boat and hire some guys to run it. Your revenues would increase again and soon you would be operating a fleet of fishing boats.”
”And then what?”
”Then you could leave the fishing to the others and concentrate on the business part. You could cut out the middle man by selling directly to American distributors. You would of course have to relocate to LA or New York but that would be a necessary sacrifice for the success that awaits you.”
”And then what?”
”By working hard you could be a millionaire in twenty or so years.”
”And then what?”
”Then comes the best part: You would sell it all, cash in the money and retire into a small coastal fishing village where you could just play around with your kids, have some quality time with your wife, stroll around the village in the evenings and hang out with your friends, drinking some wine and playing the guitar.”

Facing death is a wake-up call to live your life to the fullest: The most important legacy of Steve Jobs

At first sight death seems to be the opposite of good life – it is quite literally the end of it. But philosophers throughout the times have known that by acknowledging one’s own mortality one is able to rid oneself of the trivialities of everyday life and chains of conventionality to live a more authentic, personally expressive and fuller life. Few contemporary people have, however, expressed this insight more precisely than the late Steve Jobs as is evident already from this quote:

”Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs did many marvelous things in life. Founded Apple and lead it into developing stuff like the the Mac computer, iPod, iPhone, iPad, iWhatever. Lead Pixar into revolutionizing computer-based animation with films such as Toy Story. But for me personally by far the most impressive thing he ever did was a commencement speech he held at Stanford University in 2005. In this short speech he gives three invaluable lessons about how one should approach one’s life to live it to the fullest.

Firstly, life makes a coherent story only when we look at it with hindsight. The problem is, of course, that we have to live it forward. Steve illustrates this with a story about how he as a young college drop-out took a course in calligraphy without it having any practical application in his life at the moment. Ten years later, however, this knowledge of beautiful typography partially made the base for the sophisticated visual design that has ever since been the trademark of Apple products. For Steve, this is a lesson about dots: ”You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

Secondly, make sure to love what you do. Steve recounts the difficulties he faced when he was 30 and suddenly fired from the company he had founded and which had been the focus of his entire adult life. The experience was devastating but eventually lead into many great things such as founding and leading few other companies – and finding a wife – before returning to steer the Apple. He was convinced that the only thing that kept him going was that he truly loved what he did. And this is the lesson: ”You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”

These are important lessons but perhaps the most important advice for successful life is the third one: Put your life into perspective by thinking about your death. As a teenager, Steve found great inspiration in the quote: ”If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” He tells that since then he has looked into mirror every morning and asked himself: ”If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” This is a powerful question. If one would seriously ask it everyday one could avoid many lukewarm choices and stagnant phases of life in which one is too lazy or too afraid to effect the necessary change. The question pulls one out of the comfort zone of conventionality and puts the mirror in front of oneself: Am I really living the life I want to live?

Now Steve Job is dead. He didn’t want to die but he had accepted the fact that it is the destination we all share: ”No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.” His contribution to the technological development has been enormous but in ten years the products he helped to design have become antiquated and new, better and more powerful ones have replaced them. He knew it himself: ”Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.”

On the other hand his wisdom for life will not be outdated as long as there are human beings who struggle with life and with the inevitable death. I hope that the longest-lasting legacy of Steve Jobs will be that we should keep in mind the inevitable fact of life he himself today faced. Because facing your mortality is a wake-up call to seize control of your own life:

”Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”At first sight death seems to be the opposite of good life – it is quite literally the end of it. But philosophers throughout the times have known that by acknowledging one’s own mortality one is able to rid oneself of the trivialities of everyday life and chains of conventionality to live a more authentic, personally expressive and fuller life. Few contemporary people have, however, expressed this insight more precisely than the late Steve Jobs as is evident already from this quote:

”Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs did many marvelous things in life. Founded Apple and lead it into developing stuff like the the Mac computer, iPod, iPhone, iPad, iWhatever. Lead Pixar into revolutionizing computer-based animation with films such as Toy Story. But for me personally by far the most impressive thing he ever did was a commencement speech he held at Stanford University in 2005. In this short speech he gives three invaluable lessons about how one should approach one’s life to live it to the fullest.

Firstly, life makes a coherent story only when we look at it with hindsight. The problem is, of course, that we have to live it forward. Steve illustrates this with a story about how he as a young college drop-out took a course in calligraphy without it having any practical application in his life at the moment. Ten years later, however, this knowledge of beautiful typography partially made the base for the sophisticated visual design that has ever since been the trademark of Apple products. For Steve, this is a lesson about dots: ”You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

Secondly, make sure to love what you do. Steve recounts the difficulties he faced when he was 30 and suddenly fired from the company he had founded and which had been the focus of his entire adult life. The experience was devastating but eventually lead into many great things such as founding and leading few other companies – and finding a wife – before returning to steer the Apple. He was convinced that the only thing that kept him going was that he truly loved what he did. And this is the lesson: ”You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”

These are important lessons but perhaps the most important advice for successful life is the third one: Put your life into perspective by thinking about your death. As a teenager, Steve found great inspiration in the quote: ”If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” He tells that since then he has looked into mirror every morning and asked himself: ”If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” This is a powerful question. If one would seriously ask it everyday one could avoid many lukewarm choices and stagnant phases of life in which one is too lazy or too afraid to effect the necessary change. The question pulls one out of the comfort zone of conventionality and puts the mirror in front of oneself: Am I really living the life I want to live?

Now Steve Job is dead. He didn’t want to die but he had accepted the fact that it is the destination we all share: ”No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.” His contribution to the technological development has been enormous but in ten years the products he helped to design have become antiquated and new, better and more powerful ones have replaced them. He knew it himself: ”Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.”

On the other hand his wisdom for life will not be outdated as long as there are human beings who struggle with life and with the inevitable death. I hope that the longest-lasting legacy of Steve Jobs will be that we should keep in mind the inevitable fact of life he himself today faced. Because facing your mortality is a wake-up call to seize control of your own life:

”Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Religion as hope – visiting a youth gathering in the poor neighborhoods of San José

At four thirty on a Saturday evening I am waiting in the Park Morazán as agreed. Soon somebody calls my name and I step into a car quite unaware of our destination. We drive away from the center of San José, into one of its slums. There among the simple houses is one with the Salvation Army logo painted on the wall. Inside I find twenty or so young people hanging and waiting for the ceremony to start. I sit down in the back-corner of the room and wait to see what is going to happen.

What should the role of religion be in one’s life? This is one question that everybody in search for a good life has to answer. Religion is found to give hope, allow people to better tolerate misery and personal disasters. Religion is able to provide a sense of meaningfulness to the otherwise senseless do-abouts of the Lady Fortuna. I once heard a therapist remark that she has yet to meet a parent who has lost his or her child who would not have become at least somewhat religious. In addition, many argue that religion provides the necessary basis for our moral lives.

On the other side, the institutionalized religion has been used to control and subjugate people. Many are the wars and campaigns against people of different origin or opinions that are justified through religion. Nowadays the church often acts as the conservative force of discrimination against women and intolerance against people who don’t fit the accepted norms, for example because of different sexual orientation. Through the absolute justification that religion gives to one’s views and acts one can grow deaf to understand the perspective of the others. This might make one unable to learn from those who hold different worldviews and unable to empathize with their point of view.

When the gathering started I soon realized that at least in this neighborhood, among these young people, religion is a force for good. One father of the children was a psychologist and spoke good English and he told me that these are very poor neighborhoods with very few positive opportunities for the children. In this context the Salvation Army provides the children with one place in which they are accepted, in which someone listens to and empathizes with their joys and sorrows; a place in which they can be without fear.

Salvation Army gathering
The youth enjoying a band in the Salvation Army gathering

In the first part of the ceremony the communal function of religion was strongly present. The adolescents played some games together, sang and played music together, socialized and laughed a lot. In a life where they perhaps needed to assume more grown-up roles than they would have wanted in order to survive and prosper, the walls of the Salvation Army building offered them a place where they could be children again. After that it was time for some confessions: those who wanted could stand up and tell some moments from their lives that they wanted to share with others and others listened to respectfully. As a weekly ceremony, this provides a good opportunity to sum up the past week and is clearly building the youngsters ability to empathize with others. All in all, the doors were open, people went out and came in, the atmosphere was welcoming.

The contrast between the darkening streets outside and the mellowness inside was remarkable. In fact, the harsh reality of the outside world once entered the ceremony when a man dressed in rags ran into the room chased by another man. Fortunately, his chaser respected the church and didn’t follow in but contented himself with yelling some insults – that were not translated to me – through the open door. The presence of the escapee was tolerated for a while and when the coast was clear he was politely ushered out. Few other men of the streets had also joined in to listen to the ceremony. They sat in a corner quietly and respectfully and their presence didn’t seem to bother anyone.

Although the sense of community is the part of religion I embrace we must remember that religion is not only about community. At least Christianity is also about a direct relation with the God. The final part of the ceremony concentrated on this part. The lights were dim and some emotionally loaded music was heard in the background when the group leader – a woman in her fourties – took the floor. She started out quite peacefully but the force and determination in her voice steadily increased until the climax in which she repeatedly shouted in ecstasy ”Sancto, sancto, Dios, sancto!” The children so playful a moment ago were strongly taken by this ritual; I heard how some of them cried, I saw how some of them assumed a deep praying position or hugged each other firmly. This was no longer a play, this was serious religious trance.

As a philosopher, I undersign Terence’s words: ”I am a man, I consider nothing that is human alien to me.” Yet, accustomed to the much calmer Lutheran masses, this kind of ecstatic spiritual dedication is something into which I have a hard time to leap into. I attempted to let the situation take me but found myself mostly making observations and analyzing the acts of the others. I thought how strong and primitive emotions are unleashed in these rituals. They clearly reveal something about humanity that finds usually no expression in our everyday life. At the same time I thought how these emotions could be used for many purposes both good and bad. Whatever the spiritual leader would be stating in these situations, the crowd would take it into their hearts.

So what are the take-aways of my visit in terms of good life? Firstly, religion can give hope and it can offer important sense of community for people. It is important part of the good life of many poor people for whom there exists no similar other institutions that could offer the same benefits. Secondly, there is something within us humans that responses to spiritual gatherings. Otherwise it could not be explained why different forms of spirituality could have developed in virtually all human societies from the most primitive to the most sophisticated. This is a dimension I need to investigate more in the future. Thirdly, the strong emotional reactions generated by such spiritual gatherings are not good or bad in themselves. Their goodness or badness is dependent on what they are used for. As in dealing with any strong force we thus need much responsibility in making sure that we use it only for good purposes.
At four thirty on a Saturday evening I am waiting in the Park Morazán as agreed. Soon somebody calls my name and I step into a car quite unaware of our destination. We drive away from the center of San José, into one of its slums. There among the simple houses is one with the Salvation Army logo painted on the wall. Inside I find twenty or so young people hanging and waiting for the ceremony to start. I sit down in the back-corner of the room and wait to see what is going to happen.

What should the role of religion be in one’s life? This is one question that everybody in search for a good life has to answer. Religion is found to give hope, allow people to better tolerate misery and personal disasters. Religion is able to provide a sense of meaningfulness to the otherwise senseless do-abouts of the Lady Fortuna. I once heard a therapist remark that she has yet to meet a parent who has lost his or her child who would not have become at least somewhat religious. In addition, many argue that religion provides the necessary basis for our moral lives.

On the other side, the institutionalized religion has been used to control and subjugate people. Many are the wars and campaigns against people of different origin or opinions that are justified through religion. Nowadays the church often acts as the conservative force of discrimination against women and intolerance against people who don’t fit the accepted norms, for example because of different sexual orientation. Through the absolute justification that religion gives to one’s views and acts one can grow deaf to understand the perspective of the others. This might make one unable to learn from those who hold different worldviews and unable to empathize with their point of view.

When the gathering started I soon realized that at least in this neighborhood, among these young people, religion is a force for good. One father of the children was a psychologist and spoke good English and he told me that these are very poor neighborhoods with very few positive opportunities for the children. In this context the Salvation Army provides the children with one place in which they are accepted, in which someone listens to and empathizes with their joys and sorrows; a place in which they can be without fear.

Salvation Army gathering
The youth enjoying a band in the Salvation Army gathering

In the first part of the ceremony the communal function of religion was strongly present. The adolescents played some games together, sang and played music together, socialized and laughed a lot. In a life where they perhaps needed to assume more grown-up roles than they would have wanted in order to survive and prosper, the walls of the Salvation Army building offered them a place where they could be children again. After that it was time for some confessions: those who wanted could stand up and tell some moments from their lives that they wanted to share with others and others listened to respectfully. As a weekly ceremony, this provides a good opportunity to sum up the past week and is clearly building the youngsters ability to empathize with others. All in all, the doors were open, people went out and came in, the atmosphere was welcoming.

The contrast between the darkening streets outside and the mellowness inside was remarkable. In fact, the harsh reality of the outside world once entered the ceremony when a man dressed in rags ran into the room chased by another man. Fortunately, his chaser respected the church and didn’t follow in but contented himself with yelling some insults – that were not translated to me – through the open door. The presence of the escapee was tolerated for a while and when the coast was clear he was politely ushered out. Few other men of the streets had also joined in to listen to the ceremony. They sat in a corner quietly and respectfully and their presence didn’t seem to bother anyone.

Although the sense of community is the part of religion I embrace we must remember that religion is not only about community. At least Christianity is also about a direct relation with the God. The final part of the ceremony concentrated on this part. The lights were dim and some emotionally loaded music was heard in the background when the group leader – a woman in her fourties – took the floor. She started out quite peacefully but the force and determination in her voice steadily increased until the climax in which she repeatedly shouted in ecstasy ”Sancto, sancto, Dios, sancto!” The children so playful a moment ago were strongly taken by this ritual; I heard how some of them cried, I saw how some of them assumed a deep praying position or hugged each other firmly. This was no longer a play, this was serious religious trance.

As a philosopher, I undersign Terence’s words: ”I am a man, I consider nothing that is human alien to me.” Yet, accustomed to the much calmer Lutheran masses, this kind of ecstatic spiritual dedication is something into which I have a hard time to leap into. I attempted to let the situation take me but found myself mostly making observations and analyzing the acts of the others. I thought how strong and primitive emotions are unleashed in these rituals. They clearly reveal something about humanity that finds usually no expression in our everyday life. At the same time I thought how these emotions could be used for many purposes both good and bad. Whatever the spiritual leader would be stating in these situations, the crowd would take it into their hearts.

So what are the take-aways of my visit in terms of good life? Firstly, religion can give hope and it can offer important sense of community for people. It is important part of the good life of many poor people for whom there exists no similar other institutions that could offer the same benefits. Secondly, there is something within us humans that responses to spiritual gatherings. Otherwise it could not be explained why different forms of spirituality could have developed in virtually all human societies from the most primitive to the most sophisticated. This is a dimension I need to investigate more in the future. Thirdly, the strong emotional reactions generated by such spiritual gatherings are not good or bad in themselves. Their goodness or badness is dependent on what they are used for. As in dealing with any strong force we thus need much responsibility in making sure that we use it only for good purposes.