If you have worked for any length of time, then you have probably fallen into the work-life balance trap. That’s where you find your living overwhelmed by the demands of work.
Buddhism would have us consider another balancing problem, one that might be even more fundamental: the being-doing balance. Let me explain.
The Buddhist noble eight-fold path to happiness requires that you follow the path of Right Diligence. What this means, surprisingly, is that you should not be working on your progress all the time. …
Machiavelli was a teacher of evil. Among other counsels, the scholar Leo Strauss notes that Machiavelli advises:
“ princes ought to exterminate the families of rulers whose territory they wish to possess securely;
 princes ought to murder their opponents rather than confiscate their property since those who have been robbed, but not those who are dead, can think of revenge;
 men forget the murder of their fathers sooner than the loss of their patrimony”
Is there any reason, then, that a good person ought to follow Machiavelli’s advice? …
One paradoxical quality of willpower turns on the way it is unevenly distributed in our lives. For example, I’ve earned a few school degrees, which means that I am able to “knuckle down” and study uninterrupted for long hours. But if you put a chocolate chip cookie in front of me, I buckle after five minutes.
How is it that a person can be both disciplined and undisciplined?
A second paradoxical quality of willpower turns on the absence of a single way to manage it. For example, my wife loves goldfish crackers. To satisfy her cravings, she allows herself to…
Adolf Eichmann was an unremarkable man before he joined the Nazi party in 1932. He was mediocre in school and to make ends meet, he became a traveling oil salesman. After joining the SS, he coordinated the trains needed to carry out murder on an unimaginable scale. For his leading role, he was convicted of crimes against humanity and executed on June 1, 1962.
Hannah Arendt, a Jewish philosopher who fled Germany during the war, covered his trial. What struck Arendt was that Eichman needed no great evil intention to perform catastrophically evil deeds. …
If you ever run into a professional philosopher, ask them how they ended up on that track. Their answers almost always follow a winding path. In that respect, my own life is no different.
But I’m atypical even for a philosopher. I write and research on topics, like Aztec and Mayan philosophy, that most other professionals don’t even know exist. And my strange life explains why I think that folk philosophy — the wisdom of ordinary people who have lived through extraordinary circumstances — is worth listening to.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I should probably start at the…
Epicurean philosophy, which developed around 300 BC in ancient Greece, holds that the art of happiness consists in a life of ethical hedonism. Matthew McConaughey’s recent memoir, Greenlights, also advocates ethical hedonism as the path to living well, but not the Epicurean kind.
An episode from McConaughey’s life might clarify the philosophical stakes.
In his early 30s, McConaughey found himself emotionally exhausted after some months of physical indulgence at the Chateau Marmont, Los Angeles. So he left Hollywood behind, traveled to Africa, and made efforts to learn from local villagers. Soon, his reputation for strength landed him in a competition.
As a child, an idea I didn’t understand was that someone could enjoy giving as much as receiving. The reason we do, Buddhist and Stoic philosophy teach, is that it is the connection we forge through gifts that brings happiness — not the items themselves.
Many of us learn this lesson through disillusionment. When I was 8 years old, I wanted a radio-controlled car. My fantasy was to race it behind our house in a dirt field with friends. Initially, I was overjoyed unwrapping the toy, but after an hour I was bored.
The reason? What I really wanted was…
Stoic philosophy is known for its toolbox of “spiritual exercises” to help you deal with life. But it seems limited with its advice on relationships. Epictetus (50–135 CE), a prominent Stoic philosopher in Rome, argues that to be happy, you must detach from the things and the people you love:
If you kiss your own child or wife, say to yourself that you are kissing a human being; for when they die you will not be disturbed (Handbook, 3).
How does that advice even make sense? Attachment makes relationships possible at all. Let me explain with a story.
One of the paradoxes of life is that to be happier you don’t have to get more stuff or do new things. You only have to live the life you already have and be more fully present in it. I can give you a story to explain.
After planning for more than a decade, my wife and I finally travelled to St. Lucia in the Caribbean. While there, we thought to visit one gorgeous waterfall. The problem?
Everyone else had the same idea.
There were literal lines of people to take photos in front of the falls. So we fidgeted…
Derren Brown is a celebrity magician and philosopher. Counterintuitively, to live a happy life he recommends that you should become a pessimist.
To explain, suppose that you enter a raffle and win a new car. Suppose further that it just happens to be your dream car. Picture that car. Imagine its color. Imagine how it feels as you drive it. Imagine how envious others will be watching you drive it (I’m joking). Now how much happier will you be? For how long?
When answering those questions, did you consider how much it would cost to maintain? How expensive the insurance…