Functional beliefs

I am not religious and I have difficulties understanding why anyone would believe in a “God” that there is frankly zero proof of.

But religious people have one advantage over us atheists: they have adopted a belief system that helps them deal with the major questions in life, and also helps them cooperate with others. When everyone agrees on how we should behave, there is likely to be less friction in our daily interactions.

Most people are either 1) born into a family with strong values that it imparts to each family member or 2) influenced by values from a variety of sources, including movies, music, subcultures, formal schooling, etc.

Why should we count on being lucky: by having the right family background, or by being exposed to the right types of influences? Any rational person should take matters into his own hands and adopt a belief system that leads to positive results — a set of beliefs that makes us functional in society.

Someone should write an updated “Bible” for the modern day, with a belief system that is statistically likely to lead to good outcomes in life.

To make good decisions, we need certain habits, and for those to come about we need a set of strong beliefs in how the world works.

Here are my suggestions:

  • The world isn’t supposed to be fair. People always want to gain at the expense of others — whether they admit it or not. Instead of expecting the world to be fair, pay attention to cause-and-effect relationships. If you feel you have been wronged, look at the events that preceded the result.
  • Life is a series of trade offs. You can’t get everything. If you want success at work, you may need to neglect family. So don’t be discouraged when you don’t get success in all areas of your life. You will need to figure out what areas in your life you value the most.
  • It’s healthy to adopt a long-term goal. Humans enjoy striving towards something, even though it doesn’t make much difference in the grand scheme of the things. It’s best if the goal can be broken down into smaller parts, so that we can feel proud of the progress we have made. It could be anything: learning to paint, learning a language, building wealth.
  • Being realistic increases the likelihood that you will achieve your goal. If we have realistic expectations, we will reward ourselves mentally when we get closer to the goal. If you already discount the success in your mind, why make any effort?
  • Mental masturbation is meaningless. A concept borrowed from author Neil Strauss, “mental masturbation” means doing something that makes us feel good for a second but doesn’t have any lasting impact. It includes dreaming about the future or an alternative world, or pretending to be someone you are not on social media. It’s better to try to live in reality.
  • You are affected when others judge you. Instead of trying to ignore others judgements, expose yourself to healthy external stimuli. That includes adopting habits that are regarded as common courtesy: politeness, cleanliness, acting in a way that is considered to be normal. Our “scorecard” cannot simply be “inner” if we expect be a well functioning member of an organization or society.
  • We shouldn’t do anything against another person’s will. That includes stealing, deceiving, harassing, hurting someone willfully etc. If you do, they will probably try to get back at you.
  • A healthy diet is crucial for looking good and feeling happy. Mens sana in corpore sano. That means plenty of fruits and vegetables, avoiding dairy products and steamed rather than fried meat. Avoid living in unhealthy environments (China). I could be wrong, so do whatever works for you.
  • Don’t take drugs that are socially unacceptable. It’s perfectly OK to drink coffee at work, but few companies will tolerate employees hooked on meth. Why go there.
  • The best form of exercise is one you enjoy. Seen over a lifetime, you are unlikely to continue exercising if it requires an unusual amount of effort. If you find running marathons is a pain, just go hiking instead, or at the very least do some stretching on a daily basis.
  • Our youth is a perfect time to experiment. We all want to do well in our profession. But our talents also differ. By trying out a variety of jobs, activities, partners etc we sooner or later get positive feedback. Someone is impressed with what we have achieved. Perhaps we have a specific talent that is likely to push us to the top in that profession. Use that clue to seek your path in life. That is a much better method than listening to narratives and trying to figure out whether they make sense (e.g. being a doctor is a good choice because you can help humanity, or being a programmer is risky because many were laid off after the tech bubble). Traditional schooling doesn’t really emulate the real world experience, so you may need to do a variety of internships, take a gap year etc. Experimenting in other parts of your life also makes sense — as long as it doesn’t create life long addictions or scars.
  • Climbing to the upper half of a given hierarchy is important for feeling successful. For example, move to a neighborhood where you are not the poorest or the least successful. If you don’t think you can climb the ranks of an organization or an industry, either switch jobs or focus on other aspects of your life where you can gain a sense of achievement (eg charity, or sports).
  • Trustworthiness increases our value to our employer or our customers. A large part of business is about reducing risk, and people do so by hiring “a safe pair of hands” with good credentials that ticks every box. Trustworthiness means keeping our promises and managing expectations in a way that they are always exceeded.
  • We need to live in a “free” environment that does not overly judge or constrain you in your pursuit of happiness. That means living in a big city, in a non-totalitarian state and where the government does not overly restrict supply of goods and services. There is nothing that humans hate more than the kind of scarcity that causes us to lose out to others.
  • We need to seek social alliances or friendship networks, within or outside formal organizations. A mentor to learn from and to protect us. A network of friends makes life a lot more fun, creates a sense of stability, and help us to achieve our goals. Kahneman argues that one of the greatest predictor of happiness is whether a person has a weekly ritual that helps him connect with friends.
  • We need to seek the advice of well qualified individuals if things get tough. Your family may not be the best source of service. Try to read high quality books, watch YouTube videos, or consult friends who have been through similar situations and actually got out of them.
  • Every person is a protagonist in his own life. Most of us mean well, we just have different values, different circumstances and different justifications. Understanding this may help you avoiding judging others before getting to know their situation.
  • Criticizing a person just makes him trying to justify himself and won’t lead to actual change. His reply will be “You’re being unfair, I was just trying to…” Instead give the person a reputation to live up to and praise any of his improvements.
  • Giving orders makes the other person feel subordinate to you. If he is not your formal subordinate, he will object. Asking questions may help, or at least adding “what do you think?” at the end of any suggestion.
  • A relationship needs continuous contributions in terms of attention, appreciation, spending time together, helping each other and touching. These contributions don’t cost anything — they just require habits to be formed.
  • The most important criteria in choosing a partner are physical health and willingness to contribute to a relationship — even if you don’t plan on marrying her. Chances are you will marry her sooner or later. The likelihood of finding marriage material girls is higher if you go via the friends of friends route than if you search for girls on Tinder.
  • Having many babies will lead to personal fulfillment. We’re all looking to leave some sort of legacy. The most straightforward and fulfilling way of getting there is by having many children and enjoying family life.

I wrote this on my phone so apologies if there are any misspellings or grammatical mistakes.

Would love to hear your views on functional (or misguided) beliefs and habits. You can find me on Twitter @Fritz844.

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