Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Avoiding the “Annus horribiliss”

Well, this year has been bitter sweet, and has been a curiosity to mull over. I thought I would write a small essay to treat of this subject as recent events have really been bugging the hell out of me, until I discovered the root of the problem. I want to take you for a brief foray in to practical principles, so you can avoid making the same mistakes as me and guard yourself against straying away from the well trodden path of contentment.
On the face of it in 2013, I made loads of money, got a first class degree, and even bought a house. One might be tempted to say this was a very successful year for me.

This is not quite the full picture though.

All this was at the expense of actually relaxing and enjoying life. I look back at some great times this year, however, they strike upon my mind as faint now, and I have far too few to count. I spent virtually all my time working, studying, and missing out on social gatherings. I often fell asleep each evening whilst reading out of an academic text book. I focussed so hard on accomplishing things and was focussed so much on the end, that when I finally got there...

I felt nothing.

I actually had to pretend to be excited about getting my degree. I admit it, I lied to you all as I was rather unenthusiastic about it. I felt empty after I had done this and all I had was a meagre piece of paper to show for it (not really it is still in the post/ has not been posted yet). True, it can open doors in future and I am positive that it will, however, the error in my reasoning was to think that this was going to make me happy. I fell foul of that old trick and I assure you, I consider myself guarded to such fallacies.

I propose that you have a good think about these questions if you are not content right now.
Do you really think there is a magic 'on button' that you can suddenly just decide to press after any conceivable future event?
Should we really be waiting for some future event to make us happy, or should we be focussed on cultivating a rich and enjoyable life right now?

It is evident that I am not the only person to have made this mistake but I fell for this error and literally could not see the wood for the trees. Two years of immersing myself in my endeavours was long enough to blind me to reality, and I didn't realise that I was deluding myself as I was unconscious of this transition. But what really piqued my curiosity was that rather than fly headlong in to enjoying myself after my degree, I suddenly had solicitors bills to pay and renovations to save up for. I responded by volunteering for every bit of overtime I could. I figured that I could fly headlong in to this next project and I would be living the life of Riley. However, I found that I was discontented rather quickly and this led me to searching for answers as I had lost my way after foolishly thinking everything was going to be OK.

This led me to come up with some questions that we might ask ourselves in those times when we are unsure of whether or not we are on the correct path. I discovered that I failed to address logic and good reason and had become mired in folly and illusion. It was only when I turned to these questions it kicked me out of my dream like delusion and represented a welcome kick up the annus for me.

What good is money if you do not spend it, or have no time to enjoy it?

What good is owning a house if you are never there to chill or relax in it?

What good is there in missing out on socialising if you find yourself on your lonesome, or being so exhausted that when you do muster the effort to haul yourself out, you make poor company?

There is for most of us little solace or comfort we can find in paid employment, studying, or sleep. Of course, there is some mechanism or operation of the mind that makes us prone to resolve the drudge existence we might face, and this made me look to the propensity we have to orientate our minds towards the future. It is in this orientation to the future where we marvel at the fanciful ideas of our imaginations, and it is here that we can delude ourselves effectively and ignore the predicament we find ourselves in.

To yield the clue that we are actually doing this in real life, we can look for the form it most often appears in. If you find yourself saying a derivative of this following prefix to someone, you can be satisfied that your thinking admits of this error.

“I can't wait until _______”

If we are both completely honest, we know full well that when so and so does eventually happen it often fails to live up to our expectations.
This is because we have decided to place our happiness as a contingent factor upon this event and as such, we have placed massive expectations upon it and we expect to feel differently than what we do. For this reason it ultimately becomes a let down and we have failed to cultivate the happiness that we should have done by socialising and taking time out to relax in the mean time.

Do you ever notice that when unexpected events happen, we take far more pleasure from these impromptu occasions? One of the keys to happiness is to have no expectations or outcome dependence, and I flagrantly broke this rule when I placed expectations of happiness upon finishing my degree. We are all guilty of this vice in some degree or in past occasions. I was also able to focus on getting the keys to my house and delude myself in to ignoring the present moment which had become a rat race, rather than a chilled out lifestyle that I could have had. Instead of trying to address this I was fixated on the future and it is here that I fell in to error and became sucked in to the spin cycle of modern life.

All this toil and trouble we think is so important can actually become labour in vain if you stay fixated on the prize and forget about where you are right now in this moment. Fixating on the prize, instead of the moment, can only lead us to a palpable existence of emptiness and banality in its most extreme case formulation. Even someone like my good self who does not usually get caught up on the materialistic trip, can fall foul of this error too if the attention wanders and our spirits become lowered by the daily grind. When stuck in this cycle we often place importance to the ideas of the fancy and this blinds us to the unsatisfactory quality of our lives, which we should be addressing and taking steps to change.

It really hit me hard in the last few days that if I carry on heading on this trajectory, I would have made a good start to becoming the kind of man I never wanted to be. Luckily, I have jolted awake from my slumber and I leave this hazy dream with a sense of melancholy but also a great deal of hope, in that I have seen the error of my ways. Fortunately, I have had a great xmas and caught up with some great people, and have many others I will have to visit in January, as I had blindly prioritised work above all else.

Bizarre that it took me so long to realise this state of affairs, but so powerful is our tendency to get sucked in to focussing on wealth, tangible objects, and a future which does not exist yet, that we can literally become blind to that which is most important. Remember that material objects and wealth can never, in of themselves, bring us lasting happiness. My priorities were misplaced here and we must be vigilant that we are not treading fresh tracks in to the barren desert, running a fools errand towards a mirage. I have learned a valuable lesson this year, one I had to relearn again through valuable experience for good measure.

It was a 'materially successful year' for me but is that really the true measure of success?

Questions, always more questions with me and I will be treating this subject more fully in a future exposition in to human nature. I look forward to writing some more philosophy and starting my website up again in the new year, but most of all I look forward to focussing on enjoying myself again, which was the focus of four years hedonism, prior to returning to the UK! For now, I am going to crack another Stella open and leave you with the moral to this story.

'Life is a journey, not a destination' ( Ralph Waldo Emerson )

Happy 2014! xx


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