January 6, 2011

How to live life well

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — admin @ 7:29 pm

Every person is motivated by two desires in life: to move towards pleasure, and away from pain. That is why many people spend considerable energy pursuing things they want, and avoiding things they think will cause them harm. But what determines pleasure and pain for us? Once we answer this, we will understand our own motivations better.

As living beings, we have various needs, ranging from the basic (necessity to breathe air) to the complex (feeling aligned with a greater purpose). When our needs are taken care of, we are content. If there would ever be a moment when all of our needs were taken care of and we were completely content, it would be easy to recognize things we merely want, rather than need — because the degree to which we don’t need them would be reflected in how content we are without them. However, it seems that such a moment hardly ever presents itself. There is always something to strive for, and some unfulfilled desire. What we can do, however, is approach the issue of what we need in stages.

As a starting place, let’s look at our most basic needs — like breathing air, and getting adequate nourishment. They concern our immediate survival, and since you are here reading this, you have probably been able to satisfy those needs to an adequate extent. How would you feel if these needs were ever threatened? What if you knew there was no more food tomorrow in your village? Realize that this is a real concern for many people around the world. If it isn’t a concern for you, then you are luckier than many people to have that kind of security. In this way, you can work our way up from the basic needs — to your own situation, and understand your unique individual desires. Consider the conditions holding true in your life, including the ones you may take for granted, and ask yourself, how important would it be to you if your expectations were seriously threatened? In this way, you can determine the importance of your own unique needs. As we grow and change, our needs change with us, and thus, we would have to re-evaluate what it takes to make us happy. We can do this periodically, or after major life events.

Having done this, we can prioritize our needs and distinguish conditions we really need to be true, from things we merely want to experience. Usually, we can clearly tell a need from a want by the fact that we can visualize the need as a clear condition you expect to be true, whereas the want is a more vague experience that you hope to have.

When we focus on our needs that are met securely and by a wide margin for error, we feel content. When we consider the many people who don’t have these needs met, we feel lucky. On the other hand, when we focus on something we want, but don’t have, we feel a desire to get it. This desire is our ambition — the opposite of contentment.

This is where many people make a mistake that leads to stress and unhappiness. They go after things that they want, before securing for themselves the things that they need more. As we will see later, being in a situation where the conditions you need to be in place are threatened, causes people to take unnecessary risks and make promises they would rather not keep. It makes them depend on others without a backup plan. Has this ever happened to you?

One of the best things you can do for yourself is to make sure your most important needs are secure, and know what risks are acceptable to you. People who already have everything they need (everything important to them, anyway) are in a great position to select among their options. You can spot a person like this because they treat every new opportunity as optional. They are usually more concerned with picking a good choice, and will often throw away perfectly good opportunities if they are not really convinced they should invest their resources.

In contrast, people who feel like they need something will often chase the best opportunities that present themselves at the time. Far from throwing away perfectly good opportunities, they are hoping to find at least one good opportunity and seize it. These two approaches are at opposite sides of the spectrum — one comes from a mindset of abundance, the other from a mindset of scarcity.

As we will explore, being content with what you have — being secure in your important needs — will actually help you get a better deal on what you want. And when we get a good deal on what we want, we feel happy.

Happiness, then, depends on our ability to accept what is really going on right now, and to first focus on the areas of our life where our needs are being met. The more basic our needs are, the simpler it is to take care of them. To know yourself in this way is to have control over your happiness.