The Over Examined Life Is Impossible To Enjoy
“The unexamined life is not worth living” is a famous dictum uttered by Socrates at his trial for impiety and corrupting youth.
He believed that humans must scrutinize their lives in order to live a meaningful life. Socrates believed that the love of wisdom was the most important pursuit above all else.
To become fully human means to use our highly developed faculty of thought to raise existential questions about ourselves and the best use of our limited time on earth. For if we don’t, we can easily become victims of our own existence — merely eating, sleeping, working and procreating.
We must occasionally question ourselves and the world, and our place in it — what brings out the best in us, what makes us come alive, what we actually want to live a meaningful and happy life, how to live our best lives.
Just like a seed needs soil, sunlight, and water for its healthy germination, human life needs introspection and examination for its growth.
The bigger question is: How do we find a balance between examining our lives to become better humans and over-examining our lives to the point that it becomes a living hell.
Where do you think the line between over and under-examined is?
What if instead of optimizing your life to death, you focus on satisficing — choosing good enough over optimization to death. Or better still, deciding on and pursuing a course of action that will satisfy the minimum requirements necessary to achieve your desired outcome.
How harshly do you judge yourself? You can remove some of that judgment from your reflections with — appropriately enough — self-reflection.
Beware of the over-examined life
We think because we must. We overthink because we can.
A lifetime of over-thinking, over-obsessing, and over-doing literally everything, so you can avoid mistakes is literally impossible to enjoy.
“The unexamined life is not worth living, but the unlived life is not worth examining,” argues Andrew Klavan.
By all means, learn to know yourself better — and do more of what makes you happy and everything that brings out the best in you.
Key areas of personal reflection include habits, motivation, productivity, strengths and weaknesses. Think hard about important things in your life and find smarter or better ways to move forward or enjoy your limited time with the people you care about.
But don’t overthink or over-obsess about everything. You will stop living in the process. You are likely to end up judging everything and everyone. A relentless focus on personal examination can make things worse.
The habit of thinking and rethinking and thinking and rethinking is exhausting. There is a benefit to thinking about one’s life, obviously; that’s how we become better humans.
But there is also a limit to how good this practice of self-reflection or personal examination can be, and somehow, we have to find a balance.
“If truth is what you seek, then the examined life will only take you on a long ride to the limits of solitude and leave you by the side of the road with your truth and nothing else,” says Thomas Ligotti.
An over examination of life can deter you from life itself. Self-knowledge is meant to help you do more of what makes you enjoy life, not stand in the way of life and living it.
Many people inflict a lot of pain on themselves in the name of personal growth and self-improvement. They read books, attend seminars, meditate, etc., in an effort to solve problems and fix what they think is wrong. But they end up drained, exhausted and start to live an over-examined life.
It’s easy to spot your problems and obsess over everything wrong in life. Knowing when to focus on everything right in our lives is as equally important as the quest for self-knowledge. Aiming for a good enough is practical wisdom.
Paradoxically, everything changes for the better when you stop trying so hard to change it. An honest assessment of your actions, habits, and behaviours is absolutely necessary to learn and grow.
The tricky part is knowing where your line should be drawn, otherwise, you will be facing the long rabbit hole of anxiety, depression and burnout. Learning to be more grateful changes everything is a great way to find balance.
Paying attention to the positive details of the present can also help you live your best life. The unexamined life may not be worth living, but the over examined life sure wastes a lot of it.