Hodepodge of life philosophies

I’ve got a hodgepodge of quotes and ideas rattling around in my head. I could post each individually and come up with a thesis on each one, but that’s just not the way the day’s going. So, to put something down and stop the rattling:

What is “success”? Here’s one definition, from a book I’m reading, “The Conquest of Happiness” by Bertrand Russell (keep in mind this was published in 1930):

If you ask any man in America, or any man in business in England, what it is that most interferes with his enjoyment of existence, he will say: “The struggle for life.” He will say this in all sincerity; he will believe it. In a certain sense it is true; yet in another, and that a very important sense, it is profoundly false. … It is an inaccurate phrase which he has picked up in order to give dignity to something essentially trivial. Ask him how many men he has known in his class of life who have died of hunger. Ask him what happened to his friends after they had been ruined. Everybody knows that a business man who has been ruined is better off so far as material comforts are concerned than a man who has never been rich enough to have the chance of being ruined. What people mean, therefore, by the struggle for life is really the struggle for success. What people fear when they engage in the struggle is not that they will fail to get their breakfast next morning, but that they will fail to outshine their neighbors.

So, to be happy, one could change one’s definition of success, not compare oneself to others.

Continuing from another chapter of Russell’s book:

The habit of thinking in terms of comparison is a fatal one. When anything pleasant occurs it should be enjoyed to the full, without stopping to think that it is not so pleasant as something else that may possibly be happening to some one else. “Yes,” says the envious man, “this is a sunny day and it is springtime and the birds are singing and the flowers are in bloom, but I understand that the springtime in Sicily is a thousand times more beautiful, that the birds sing more exquisitely in the groves of Helicon, and that the rose of Sharon is more lovely than any in my garden.” And as he thinks these thoughts, the sun is dimmed and the bird’s song becomes a meaningless twitter and the flowers seem not worth a moment’s regard.

One could lower one’s expectations.

Per Barry Schwartz, from a TED Talk on “The paradox of choice”:

Adding options to people’s lives can’t help but increase the expectations people have about how good those options will be. And what that’s going to produce is less satisfaction with results, even when they’re good results. … The reason that everything was better back when everything was worse is that when everything was worse, it was actually possible for people to have experiences that were a pleasant surprise. Nowadays, the world we live in — we affluent, industrialized citizens, with perfection the expectation — the best you can ever hope for is that stuff is as good as you expect it to be. You will never be pleasantly surprised because your expectations, my expectations, have gone through the roof. The secret to happiness — this is what you all came for — the secret to happiness is low expectations.

But if your expectations are too low . . . per Bill Watterson’s alter ego, Calvin:


The there was this, from Jesus “Chuy” Garcia’s recent concession speech in the runoff election for Chicago mayor:

We didn’t lose today. We tried today. We fought hard for what we believe in. You don’t succeed at this or anything else unless you try. So keep trying.

But Yoda won’t get out of my head:

Do. Or do not. There is no try.

I appreciate this piece by Omid Safi, “Fail Better”:

Many of us live in cultures of success.
We preach the gospel of success:
Success in life.
Success at work.
Success in our personal relationships.
Success in getting fit.
Success in investment.

Real life doesn’t always work like that.
It doesn’t often work like that.
Actually, it almost never works like that.

Life is not linear.
Life is not a victory march to success.
The life that I know is messy:

Ever tried,
Ever failed.

A couple of Deep Thoughts takeaways from all this rattling and mulling and musing:

1. Create your own definition of success that’s not dependent on what others think.

2. There is value in an honest effort, even if it ends in failure.

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