0360 – screw feeling guilty about not appreciating life

In the previous post I tried to think about reconciling my multiple sets of thoughts and perspectives and approaches to different scenarios, and wondered if I could get rid of some of my mental filing cabinets by consolidating everything and having “one coherent picture” at the heart of everything. I then tried to revisit thoughts from many conversations with my boss– about cause and effect, about vagueness, the pursuit of desired end-states and about how people are fundamentally pleasure-seeking / pain-avoiding. (There’s probably a lot of reading to be done about that.)

The reason for all of this isn’t to become a full-time insight pornographer, or even to make insight-porn a serious hobby. The idea is to get better at seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. The idea is to be happier in life and with life. To be happy being and happy doing. So I guess let’s explore that.

I can sometimes find pleasure in being. Lately I tend to feel this while I’m running, or while I’m taking a nice walk in pleasant weather. Sometimes I feel it while playing with my cats, sometime while hanging out with my wife, sometimes while reading a book. I don’t do this as much as I’d like. I don’t appreciate life as much I “ought” to.

That’s a very loaded statement and there’s a lot to unpackage there. What does it mean to not appreciate life as much as one “ought” to? Who decides how much we ought to appreciate life? Why should we feel guilty about our lack of appreciation for life, doesn’t that just make it worse? I think that’s one of the silliest afflictions that thinkers and artists and other in-the-head types bring upon ourselves, and we even celebrate those among us who are articulate at describing it. Dostoyevsky was all about that, wasn’t he? (At least the character in Notes From Underground, I feel.)

Look, it’s your fucking life and you can do whatever the fuck you want with it. You can appreciate it or not appreciate it as much as you like. I think we’ve spent far too much time being conditiond by parents and teachers and peers telling you to appreciate life more. [1] More often than not I think we tell people to appreciate life not because we sincerely think they should, but because we think WE should, and we regret that we did not appreciate our own lives more. Well if that’s the case I think we shouldn’t be going around TELLING people to appreciate life, we should just appreciate it with them. We should just ask better questions, be more thoughtful in conversation, ask about little details. I think we straitjacket people with all the wrong questions, like what are you passionate about, what do you want to do with your life, what makes you different, yadda yadda. Well I might change my mind about this in a matter of seconds… I think it’s useful to think about those things, but I also think it’s important to be aware of the meta-games, the meta-meta-games, and the infinite recursion that goes on there.

So fuck it, I don’t think I need to appreciate my life more. I think I’m appreciating my life at exactly the appropriate amount. If I feel like appreciating more, I shall do so. If I feel like getting caught up in something, I shall do so. I think I’d rather “fail to appreciate life” than be guilty about not appreciating life enough. I suppose the real solution is to make sure to take a little bit of time every day to meditate and appreciate life– it’s a tiny sacrifice to make, if it’s a sacrifice at all, and I think it pretty much resolves the issue once and for all.

Well it’s not really even a sacrifice. It’s just a reallocation of time that’s normally not really prioritized in any meaningful sense, anyway. So why call it a sacrifice? It’s just something that requires effort. I suppose the problem is that despite all of the talking and reading I still haven’t fully developed a personal science to habit-forming for myself. And I’m reminded now that I’m hoping these vomits can help me do that. My daily writing practice is my meditation, in a sense. It keeps me grounded. It reminds me to appreciate life. So I think I might actually keep this going long after the project is done. But let’s not get so ahead of ourselves, shall we?

Funny how I ended up using this post to ruminate on the guilt of being unappreciative. Still left to think and talk about: What it means to be happy in life, and with life. I remember that there was a TED talk that I really enjoyed about a few different kinds of happiness– I think it might have been pleasure, excitement, fulfillment, flow– 3 of those. Pleasure, flow and fulfillment, I think. All different things. Writing gives me flow.

Let’s explore other facets of this in separate vomits now that this is done.

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[1] Isn’t it kinda hilarious how many of the people who quit the rat race go on to take a remarkably well-worn path afterwards? Everybody wants to start a startup or a cafe, go backpacking, become a writer or painter or yoga instructor… it’s strange how similar these people all sound. It’s almost like people were getting tired of the dominant script and now there’s a new dominant script emerging… and I’m sure if we study the broader social trends over the past 100 years or so we should find that there’s some sort of cycle here, or at least a pendulum, and we’ve all been here before. And I guess in every generation there are people who are frustrated and feel like they must be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and every generation will have a bunch of people whining about how bad their generation is, and a subset of those who whine about how annoying it is that people are whining but oh god there’s no real alternative is there, apart from going into the woods or mountains altogether?

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