Believe in nothing, no matter who says it, even if I say it, if it does not agree with your own experience and your own common sense ~ Buddha

Optimizing Life

Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.
-Confucius

This really is true, isn’t it? Life is a pretty simple endeavour. Survive. Have enough to keep body and soul together, as they used to say.

What happened? Why did we start optimizing our existence?

Well I have one theory. You can tell me what you think. When as a culture, we stopped fixing our gaze on a hereafter where every moment was bliss, I think we looked around and said, if this is it, I better make the most of it.

This is not a judgement of the motivation.

A hundred years ago, people not only believed in an immortal soul, but that their actions on this world would affect their chances of gaining eternal bliss in the next. So the mentality was that of delayed gratification: keeping your head down and doing what you ought would eventually pay off. Character was emphasized insofar as having it would help you get into heaven.

Fast forward to the rise of secularism, and people are questioning why they do the things they do. Why do they act this way, why do they make the choices they do? Before, religion was the answer. Now what is it?

That’s something every person has to answer for themselves. I would be very interested if you would tell us about it in the comments, if it isn’t too personal.

For me, I think that you can float through life with out a purpose or with one. For me, life is a lot more interesting and flavorful with one. And I hold the belief that being that there is only one me, I have the job of being the best me there is. Being that no one else could possibly be as good a me as me, this isn’t very arduous. But I see it as a game to play by myself, like solitaire, to better myself against my own metrics.

What do you think of my theory? Do you have your own?

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Comments on: "Optimizing Life" (3)

  1. Well, you already know what I think, but I’ll restate it here: if, by “optimizing”, you mean simply the endless tinkering with our sense of purpose and accomplishment, I’d say that’s just something we do with our time now that we don’t spend all our time hunting, gathering, farming, and dying of plague and barbarian invasions.

    If you mean it more in a material sense, in the ways we allow ourselves to believe that we need this, that or the other in order to live the most fulfilling life, like I said to you before, I blame advertising.

    A tiny quibble: I think you’re using “secularism” interchangeably with skepticism or atheism, but really, all it basically means is keeping state and church separate. It isn’t about trying to dissuade anyone from their metaphysical beliefs, just trying to keep them from mixing them up into public policy.

    There is no one, timeless overarching purpose to my life, just a myriad of smaller purposes which ebb and flow.

    • I’m actually using secularism in the sense of separating one’s sense of identity away from religion– the separation of church and personal sovereignty, if you will. Before the twentieth century, unless education introduced you to heretical thought, the church owned you, body mind and soul. You literally could not separate your personal identity from a religious identity.

      I don’t know about advertising, myself. Advertising has never inspired ME to live a deeper, more meaningful life. It only sways me towards hedonism and conspicuous consumption.

      I chose the word optimize specifically so that it could represent whatever individuals might strive for: success, happiness “freedom” material wealth, a good home life.

      My own optimization leans towards control, excellence, and efficiency, (which is another way of saying control) and my fulfillment lies in feeling totally on top of every situtation.

      • Ah, okay, then.

        My own optimization leans towards control, excellence, and efficiency, (which is another way of saying control) and my fulfillment lies in feeling totally on top of every situtation.

        I was going to make a naughty joke here, but this is a public, family-friendly blog, so I’ll let you guess what I might have said instead.

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