A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Two and a half years ago I left the corporate programming world to work full-time on my own software business. It’s gone well and I have no regrets, but sometimes it’s been tough – the most challenging times have often involved being socially isolated. I don’t talk to another soul most days of the week, something which took getting used to.
Being isolated for long periods of time creates a perspective that is difficult, if not impossible to arrive at in standard employment where one regularly interacts with those who have bought into the ethos of modern culture.
What follows are some ways to increase life satisfaction in this culture.
What Increases Life Satisfaction
Being Internally Driven to Create
Traditionally adults have been producers and children consumers. Adults raise children from a place of complete dependence and consumption to a place where they are producers themselves – in the ideal case. Our modern hyper-consumerism society pushes adults backward into a childlike mentality – back into being consumers rather than producers, always looking for the next goodie to reward them or enhance their life in some way.
Many people spend a large portion their productive lives doing stuff they dislike because they have either sold a part of their future work-life (appearing as financial debt) or they only value things they can acquire. Thus they put themselves in a position where they MUST perform work for someone else in order to pay these off. This fundamentally distorts one’s relationship with work.
Two main views of work.
The popular view. Work is the resistance between where you are at and a final state you highly desire. Often this final state involves getting rewarded with some consumable which is quickly used up or a life achievement that proves hollow.
A better alternative. Work is an integral part of life and cannot be separated from a good life. Life’s meaning lies within work itself. Without work there is no life worth living. The consumable rewards are byproducts of this work that also serve as endpoints to give your work a general direction.
Work is so much more than the corporate activities people participate in 9-5. Work is what you do when you transform how the world presently is to how you think it should be. Work involves using your creativity to get something done in the way that you see fit. Work is what occurs between the time an idea is potential energy within your mind to the time that the idea has made its way into the physical world.
The good life is centered around this healthier definition of work. The good life is not about focusing our life around what we can collect and consume.
We are born with a massive potential to change the environment around us given our free will, abilities and the potential to persist through adversity. Most of us only scratch the surface of this potential.
Many people spend their lives allowing external stimuli to dictate their behavior. A boss or company holds a paycheck in front of one’s face in order to bribe us to work. If it wasn’t for this check, most would not be doing their current (or any?) work.
This is tremendously destructive because if this is your prime relationship with work it establishes the mental habit of being driven by external reward or punishment rather than your own internal value system. This squanders your potential to change the world in ways you see fit you since you are conditioned to wait for an external entity to tell you what to do and when.
Living for your own internally-driven love of work allows you to step off of the hedonic treadmill. Things that are pleasurable become much more so in part because the contrast between busting your ass and taking a break to enjoy life is much more intense than when one simply jumps from one consumable to the next. If you always let pleasure drive your path forward, you will hedonically adapt very quickly and find yourself seeking greater and greater pleasures. This leads to a depressive outlook and a meaningless existence.
Contrast this with the example of a life driven by hedonism: Imagine you didn’t do anything other than seek pleasures. You watch TV all day, surf junk websites, watch meaningless videos and silly games, doing absolutely nothing remotely productive, and simply jump from one indulgence to the next. How would you feel?
Intentionally impose small daily discomforts on yourself. Soft environments make soft people who are more susceptible to externally supplied indulgences. Hard environments make resilient people who are more internally driven and less mentally affected by external conditions.
A tiny discomfort you can impose on yourself is to take a cold shower every morning. Turn on the water and jump right in. It’s a simply activity that helps increase your discipline and adapt to negative stimulus.
Allow yourself to be bored. When waiting in line at the market, keep the cell-phone in your pocket and simply observe the things around you.
Aim to cut your cell-phone usage down by 50%. Then after you get accustomed to that, cut it by another 50%. At some point you’ll realize that your patience has gone up and much of the addictive pull of the phone has gone down if not completely disappeared.
Build your free will/agency muscle by participating in activities that require internal drive. In your free time create things that you don’t get paid for and no-one has asked you to do. At work, take extra initiative even when no-one will ever know or see what you’ve done.
Define Your Experience with Technology
We owe it to ourselves and our families to not simply accept information and products pushed at us, but rather sculpt our lives by determining exactly what information we will consume and how much.
Make an effort to have more face-to-face communications instead of communicating via social media.
Realize what your junk triggers are and develop healthier responses. Junk triggers are the stimuli that occur which cause you to jump on the Internet for ‘junk’ time (General ‘boredom’ is the most frequent trigger). Aim to do something else that fills the same psychological need when the trigger hits.
Example: When sitting in an incredibly boring meeting, don’t check Facebook, Instagram or even the news. Instead pull up a Kindle book or dare-I-say a video game. I view mentally stimulating games like Words With Friends a couple steps above junk surfing since you use a bit of creativity – unlike surfing which just serves to put you in the passive consumer role.
Be Around Positive People / Avoid Negative People
It’s been said that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time around. If you are spending your time in the presence of highly negative people your thought patterns will start to mirror theirs and you will become more negative. Likewise, if you are in the presence of people who are positive and highly proactive you will naturally become more like them. So in short, avoid people who bring you down and spend more time with people who have a positive outlook.
What Decreases Life Satisfaction
The following are some things I strongly believe to diminish satisfaction in life and should enter into one’s awareness.
Being Primarily Externally Driven
The pace of our culture pushes many of us to spend most of our most creative time doing work which we dislike and are only doing because we are getting a paycheck. When we get home we spend any free time vegging out and relaxing. This reinforces the concept that you are only creating when someone forces you to do it and at other times you are in consumer mode. Performing this pattern of activity for years serves to greatly diminish internal drive.
The structure of education and employment in modern society tends to greatly diminish our inner spark. We start school at age five and are in classes every day through seventeen or eighteen. Then we may continue through college. We get a job and are off to the corporate world until retirement. This entire time our schedule and what is deemed important in our work lives has been determined by “the system”. Being primarily externally driven is bad for us and kills our inner initiative.
Consuming Internet and Media in an Uncontrolled Fashion
Popular internet sites and society in general presents a non-stop cacophony of bullshit that works to constantly program your brain in a negative way. Make it your duty to yourself to pull back, install web filters and have devoted times and days when you completely abstain from internet-related material.
The vast majority of news stories do nothing but serve to stress people out or cause them to gawk at the gabfest that passes for meaningful information. Most news stories that seem important only last a day or two and then we’re onto the next one. Skipping a few days of news ends up having no negative impact on your life and helps give you a chance to do something else.
Modern society is drowning in over-consumption. Over-consumption of low-quality food makes us fat. Over-consumption of products clutters our house and gets us into debt. Over-consumption of information causes us to be passive consumers of ideas rather than creators.
At one time the purpose of seeking information was to let allow us to learn how to create/produce more effectively. It has now become just another consumable feeding our endless curiosity for all things trivial and has turned us into information gluttons. When you spend hours reading about things that have no impact on your life you put your mind in a passive state rather than creative one.
What you Regularly Do Rewires your Brain
Science has discovered that your brain literally gets wired by the things you do (or don’t do) on a regular basis. The more you put yourself in a passive/consumer role the more your brain wires itself for that, while the more you put yourself in a producer/creator role the more your brain wires itself for that.