2551 Saturdays

"There’s a website called 4000Saturdays and, among other things on the site, it contains a life calculator. You enter your birth date, and it calculates how many Saturdays you have lived and how many more you will live (if we take as given that 4000 Saturdays is the average number of Saturdays in a person’s life).

The website tells me I have about 2551 more Saturdays left to enjoy. Oh my God! Today, the day I chose to do this little calculation, is indeed, a Saturday, and a very dull one. I can’t live any more Saturdays like this! Life’s too short, 2551 Saturdays are not that much! I have to do something! So what do I do? I panic."

This is a guest post I did for the New Existentialists blog. Read the rest of it here.

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Happiness is overrated

Everyone wants to be happy. Emmy van Deurzen asks

Is happiness possible? Or even, is happiness desirable?

For most people, it is. Every magazine I know, has at least one article about “how to be happy”. But what is happiness?

According to wikipedia, “Happiness is a mental or emotional state of well-being characterized by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy”. It is also mentioned, that “happiness is a fuzzy concept and can mean many different things to many people.” True, that. It could be having what I want, feeling good, having a good time, a state of bliss etc.

Whatever happiness is, we have made it such a big deal. Happiness is a nasty goal, for happiness only lasts for no more than a couple of hours. No one is happy all the time (and if you know one, maybe he’s on something). Aim for happiness and you’ll probably be disappointed.

Happiness, for me, is something internal. Like a state of mind which you either have or haven’t. And it comes from having a purpose in life, doing things that have a deeper meaning for you. Because meaning lasts, happiness doesn’t, as recent research shows. Of course, van Deurzen is right when she says to have little goals that you can achieve in a rather short amount of time, or you may be lost on the way. It’s crucial that you can meet up the challenges life throws your way.

To get back to what I was saying about every magazine I know (and their 10 do-this-and-you’ll-be-happier lists), they seem to imply that happiness is the basic step and everything else will follow. If I am happier, things will be better. Isn’t that a bit off? Of course our stances and moods colour our worldviews, but you can’t just start being happy. Lists tell you to exercise, to meditate, to cut down on your facebook time, to laugh. Well, shouldn’t these behaviours derive from being happy rather than be the prerequisite of happiness? This has always been very confusing for me.

Sure, there’s biology and endorphins and getting out of your house to jog, will, eventually, bring you some highs. But lows are around the corner if you’re not pre-happy. Pre-happy, meaning being in a state of a somewhat internal bliss. But even that, is not always possible. Life’s full of difficulties and agony and happy-go-lucky lists tend to forget that. It’s like you have to ignore the hardships, but how is that doable? And why would we want that? Our lives are full of conflicts and loss and pain. And getting through these hard steps makes us grow. So, it seems more important to build resilience, than happiness. At least it seems more important to me, because the hards are always there and wishing to just be happy is like wishing for the weather to always be sunny. Impossible.

Being cured of all difficulties is the death of possibility and creativity

says van Deurzen and I couldn’t agree more. If nothing changes, nothing new is born.

You can’t eliminate problems, but you can learn how to thrive upon them”

(to quote Emmy van Deurzen yet again), and that what’s therapy is all about.

I hope you know I don’t have something against happiness, I, too, want to be happy. But I don’t want happiness to be my only goal. I want to love the life I’m living, I want meaning, I want to have a life with a sense of fulfillment at the very end. And you can only achieve this by finding what really is important for you, what matters to you and then find a way to live by this. Of course it’s not always easy, but it actually worths the try.

Apart from my “I’ve had it with happiness talk”, this post is hugely inspired by and based on Emmy van Deurzen’s book “Psychotherapy and the Quest for Happiness”. You can find a relative slideshow here.

photo from six nights project, by Katerina Paspaliari

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What should we think about death?

This is the title of a short Humanist animation about death, afterlife, and living in the here and now, narrated by Stephen Fry. I think it greatly points out various existential ideas in a short amount of time. People try to forget about death most of the time, but this video argues that the finitude of life is what gives us a sense of meaning and purpose. "

Imagine eating an endless cake, where would be the fun in that?,

asks Fry, in the video. Well, I don't know about you but I wouldn't mind a never-ending ice cream. Nonetheless, life is finite, "death is a natural part of life".

Great video. Worths your time, if you're ready to seriously wonder upon how you live your life.

Written & produced by the British Humanist Association, and narrated by Stephen Fry. Animated by Hyebin Lee.

Why do today what you can do tomorrow?

I mean, really. Tomorrow is another great day, waiting there for you to do things. Why bother doing everything today?

Existentialists might argue that life won't be there forever, that tomorrow might never come. With that on mind, I'm seriously asking you, if tomorrow you're not alive and kicking, why spend so many hours today, doing the most boring stuff there is on earth? If someone told you you're going to die soon, would it really matter to you to get this paper done, or would you rather going out with some friends?

The truth is, you're always postponing something. It's either work, or pleasure (among other things). Of course work is important and sometimes it can't be postponed, deadlines are over your head. That doesn't mean that pleasure isn't as important as work though. I'm a person that almost always puts work first, but some day I realized work is never finished and I haven't seen my friends for over a month. You're always not doing something, but it is crucial that you decide what you want your life to be about. Can it be all work? Can it be all play? Which one you'll put off today?

These last days, I seem to procrastinate an awful lot. I used to think that procrastination is a very bad thing that should never happen to creative people, to people “who get the work done”. Then again, I thought to myself, I can’t always do my best and that’s actually very ok. No one can be absolutely efficient all the time. That whole procrastination thing used to make me feel a lot of guilt and anger, but somehow, something changed. I don’t perceive it as so bad now. I do a lot of things while procrastinating, I’m not just sitting idly on my bed. But even if I did, it would be all right, it could even be needed in some circumstances. Sometimes I just want to watch “The Mentalist” all night long. There’s some beauty in giving in, too.

I have been reading a lot about procrastination lately. Different authors, different interpretations of the concept of procrastination and the procrastinator. But unless you know the person who procrastinates, you cannot know why he’s doing so. It’s a too general idea to make out some one-fits-all conclusions. To speak for myself, I don’t even procrastinate for the same reasons every time I do it, so how could I speak for another person?

Then I came across John Perry (Professor Emeritus, Stanford University) and his idea of structured procrastination. I let the man speak for his concept and I quote:

All procrastinators put off things they have to do. Structured procrastination is the art of making this bad trait work for you. The key idea is that procrastinating does not mean doing absolutely nothing. Procrastinators seldom do absolutely nothing; they do marginally useful things, like gardening or sharpening pencils or making a diagram of how they will reorganize their files when they get around to it. Why does the procrastinator do these things? Because they are a way of not doing something more important. If all the procrastinator had left to do was to sharpen some pencils, no force on earth could get him do it. However, the procrastinator can be motivated to do difficult, timely and important tasks, as long as these tasks are a way of not doing something more important.

Structured procrastination means shaping the structure of the tasks one has to do in a way that exploits this fact. The list of tasks one has in mind will be ordered by importance. Tasks that seem most urgent and important are on top. But there are also worthwhile tasks to perform lower down on the list. Doing these tasks becomes a way of not doing the things higher up on the list. With this sort of appropriate task structure, the procrastinator becomes a useful citizen. Indeed, the procrastinator can even acquire, as I have, a reputation for getting a lot done.

Structured procrastination. Genius. He also goes as far as to recommend procrastination and he writes:

Non-procrastinators are inevitably ignorant. Suppose you really never put off until tomorrow what you could do today. You'd have to work right up to midnight every night. So you would never be able to watch John Stewart or Stephen Colbert or David Letterman. So you wouldn't know anything about current events and their deeper meanings. That would be irresponsible.

Listen to the man. He is Professor Emeritus of Stanford University. He must know what he’s talking about, right?

You can find more on his concept of structured procrastination here. You can find out his blog entry “Procrastinating Tips: 9 Reasons To Slack Off”, on Huffington Post.

Ellen is always right.

Philosophy meets Cara Delevingne

Today's post is about two things:

a. A great attempt by philosophers to bring a philosopher's view to current news, like Daily mail does but with a different kind of look. I think it's mainly created by Alain De Botton, but it's not all exclusively his work. Their website is called "The Philosophers' Mail" (pun with Daily Mail intended).

b. An article of theirs that has to do with beauty, youth, personality, and aging, all of them combined in the face of the world's super model crush, Cara Delevingne.

On their article there is a paragraph saying this:

We make such a big thing of youth that we struggle to find good ways of dealing with the inevitable facts of ageing. It's slightly demented for a society in which most people live into their eighties to locate twenty one as the high point and regard everything beyond that as downhill and lamentable.

I want to focus on this because it really concerns me. I am deeply fallen in that trap too. I'm not even 30 and I'm already in a panic that I'm too old and my youth slowly (but not so slowly) fades away and I will never be that young again. As true as this is, we (my fellow 27-28ish friends and me) shouldn't behave like there's nothing more to life than a pretty young face. (All my readers over 30, please don't hate me, be compassionate with a girl in deep existential angst). Of course, every celebrity that respects herself goes on a full-face of botox to prevent herself from crying every time she looks herself at the mirror, but I respect the woman who doesn't care to show her age, who doesn't find value only in being young. I have a long way before me, until I become that woman, because young as I am now, I totally freak out every time I picture myself at my fifties.

Only one thing makes me feel better. That when I’m 50, I’ll have become this super wise person and will be way beyond all these matters. Truth be told, I am not that old, but I'm getting older. I have my choices to make and some of them you can never take back, so youth isn't always as carefree as “Everyday toiletries” make it to be. Still, it doesn’t need to be as bad as all the photos around us show it to be. Years ago, people of age were fully respected and considered of great value. What happened to our modern society, I wonder?

On a happy note, Jung believed life really begins at 40. I'm adopting that, it definitely suits me.

photo found at facebook