How can I be happier?
If I want to be happier, what can I do? Normally, I try to get things that “make me happy”, such as money, love, respect, etc… However, there are problems with this strategy – the most fundamental of which is that I may not get what I want. When I don’t, I’m often unhappy. Also, the risk of not getting what I want can lead to stress, and when I get what I want, I often wory about losing it. Is there a better way?
Let’s look at how we normally experience. We interpret experience which creates emotions which affects how we interpret future experience (eg: reinforcing or changing it). I’ll call this interpretation the worldview. What’s more, my worldview need not be conducive to happiness, it just has to be such that experience can reinforce it. For instance, if I get disappointed, I normally don’t blame my worldview but blame myself, someone who thwarted me, etc… In fact, I often tell myself to try harder or “bounce back” by seeking something else, thus reinforcing this worldview! In addition, others seek the same thing, so I get a lot of cues that push for that worldview – the environment is tailored to it (commercials, parents, peers). In fact, it often takes a serious shock to make me rethink my worldview.
So can I change my worldview? Yes.
We choose our worldview. It seems otherwise because we’re usually on autopilot. Therefore, we must first be conscious of our momentary experience; then we can use our new worldview instead of our old one. In fact, when we are aware, we have to make an effort to apply any worldview!
If the new worldview “works”, feedback will strengthen it until it becomes habit. This can take a very long time however; after all, our old worldview took years to form, benefited from years of feedback and had the advantage of being installed when we had no competing worldviews.
What makes a better worldview? It…
1. Provides reliable happiness.
2. Is plausible.
3. Encompasses experience and turns it into positive feedback.
4. Stands above other worldviews. This may require a negative viewing of competing worldviews as part of the new one, thus reducing the old while strengthening the new through feedback.
Awareness: The Common Factor
The importance of momentary awareness cannot be over-emphasized. This may be the most important part of worldview formation, yet is usually ignored. How many worldviews failed because of this?
Awareness turns experience (which can be a threat) into fuel. Without it, the feedback cycle of daily existence can push one back to the old worldview and undermine one’s work.
Often a worldview is bad enough that just turning it off is an improvement. Since awareness does this, many find they are happier just being aware – without a replacement worldview. This may be the source of the simple advice to live in the moment.
Awareness requires discipline and skill and can benefit from practice. One common practice is meditation. This should be used to strengthen awareness so one can better face experience, and not an end in itself – a mistake many make, especially since meditation can make one happy on its own. Some improvement is likely to bleed in, but maximal gains require conscious use of our improved awareness.
Now onto some worldviews.
Below are some worldviews, and how they match the above. This is not to say that these worldviews were explicitly designed with the above in mind, but that they can be profitably interpreted with the above principles. If you are considering a radical life change, look more into them, or even try mixing and matching to what works for you.
Some worldviews are mutually contradictory. Also, this isn’t about ontology, but what you believe. Ultimate truth is one thing, how a belief affects you is another – don’t confuse the two. I am not endorsing any of the below, just presenting some ones that you may choose. Also, if you are content with your life, there is no need to look afield.
I mentioned this previously. Philosophy is a class of worldviews, held together by the theme of wisdom. Here’s my post; judge how it fits in with the above:
Teaches that normal life is unsatisfying due to desire, but we can transcend desire for greater joy. The usual pursuits are seen as leading to greater misery by strengthening desire. Buddhism can get complex, and includes much supporting philosophy and practice – including meditation.
Teaches that will to virtue is the only good. All experience is seen as a chance to respond virtuously, a decision that is up to us and can never be thwarted. Things like money, honor and love, are regarded as indifferents, and in some cases are seen as a barrier to virtue.
Judaism, Christianity and Islam
Caution is required here. These religions promise results in the hereafter, and so it’s easy to treat them like a chore instead of a worldview. In addition, some interpretations are negative and thus worse than our original worldviews. However, the more benign interpretations can increase happiness and the contemplatives and mystics of those traditions are exemplars. These traditions also see God as the order behind all things and the world as a test. Therefore, what happens is not to be taken as anything of note as far as happiness concerns. Evil can be apparent, part of a greater good we cannot see, or even purgative.
Teaches that we realize our existence is the only bare fact and we live in a world without meaning, which frees us to create our own. Most Existential works seem to be grim, pessimistic and melodramatic, so I may be writing more out of my own interpretation (or wishful thinking) than any Existential reality.
Pyrrhonism (aka Greek Skepticism)
Teaches that we cannot rely on any knowledge, and as such erases a worldview without substituting its own. As mentioned above, no worldview can be an improvement over the typical one.
The claims made here are not readily (if at all) falsifiable. Much can be treated as a worldview and failures can be blamed on a lack of belief, or reverting to old worldviews. While true, here’s the thing: truth is irrelevant. The subjective realm works by different rules – where truth is what is believed, and what works is what leads to greater happiness. Our mental landscapes are malleable and we can shape them to suit our needs. Therefore, the purpose here is to provide a model to allow people to realize their creative potential and best use it to improve the quality of their lives.