Last night, while enjoying a cup of my own cold brewed coffee (and a spoon full of Bailey’s Original), I had a great moment all to myself to reflect on the last few years of my life, and the result of which was the last post in which I described my rough intellectual path of becoming who I am in the present. I have come to the conclusion that I have always been a stoic.
Stoicism is an ancient philosophy that places great emphasis on how to live a moral life, by being indifferent to the a changes of circumstances or of fortune, and to do so we must be unconcerned with the temporal forms of pleasure and pain. The first time that I heard of it, I thought that this way of thinking sound as though it could have come from Buddha’s teaching. The only pleasure that matters is the pleasure that is everlasting, but who on earth could possibly achieve that? Any forms of pleasure may raise our level of happiness for a while — think of the time when we open a box of present, when we receive an award or an accolade, when we get paid, when we get a new iPhone, and especially when we have sex, etc.
Once the excitement of being happy for a while, however, dies down, then we have no where else to go but to return to the state of being normal again. Take sex for example. Once it’s over, despite the frame of passion that had been burning from the moment you see the one you’d like to be so deeply intimate with, you would rather want to rest, to sleep, and to be with yourself rather than to engage, again, in the intercourse. You know that you’ll be happy again, although for a short period of time, but you’d still rather sleep because that’s what you need. You can’t be in the state of permanent orgasm. That’s just not what we human beings are made to achieve.
That is to say, once we’ve reached the peak, we have to land onto the normal level. Some, unfortunately, even sink down beyond that level of the normal to the level of being sad because he or she expects that the happiness would somehow last longer, and when it does not, nothing but the feeling of sorrow would great him or her at the front door. In other words, knowing that no happiness is permanent, and that the more we go out of our way to try to replace one happiness with another in order to keep happiness coming in perpetuity, Buddha suggests that we will be in, in stead, in the permanent state of being unfulfilled. The only way to achieve the permanence of flourishing life, is to keep take our mind away from being obsessed with the notion of happiness. It’s overrated anyway. According to a recent research done by the University of Wisconsin’s social psychologist,
Happiness research, a field known as “positive psychology,” is exploding. Some of the newest evidence suggests that people who focus on living with a sense of purpose as they age are more likely to remain cognitively intact, have better mental health and even live longer than people who focus on achieving feelings of happiness.
The problem of thinking that “I must be happy to have a good life” begins with the notion of happiness itself. Why is it so important to be happy? Who said so? Why can’t just being okay be good enough? What does it mean to be happy? What are the levels of happiness? Is happiness universal, meaning that what makes me happy must also make you happy as well? Because there’re so many answers to these questions, and therefore it’s impossible to pin down, linguistically and cognitively, the meaning of the word. That is to say, we often get confused when we ourselves think about the idea of happiness , and that is, make no mistake, the cause frustration. When people ask you, “how are you today?” Make sure that you do know that you are not obligated to say “good.” Or, if someone say something like “you must be so happy” on your birthday, also make sure that you also know that you are not obligated to say “yes.” According to Buddha, we must try to do away with the temporally happiness, because they’re doing more harm that good for the said reason.Stoic thinkers living among the great thinkers in the Athenian Empire two thousand of years ago knew about this; hence, they had made us aware of this particular fact of life as the single most important fact of life. Happiness will go away, so every time we think we are really happy, the Stoics would say, try to come up with a scenario that would make you forget such happiness as soon as possible. It’s like when you are trying to make an argument (and this is an argument that this thing that is happening right now is making me happy) to convince someone (in this case, you), you always need a good counter-argument simply to say that “I have thought of the other way of looking at the situation as well” before anyone else can (and in this case, that anyone else is the skeptical you). With a good argument (thesis) and a good counter-argument (anti-thesis), you could derive, in a Hegelian sense, at what the man Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel would call a “synthesis.” So, when something good happens, think about the bad thing that could follow, and then you’ll arrive at the state of indifference — the state of, say, “I’ll be okay whether what will happen.” This is the most important and the true quality of a, broadly defined, “happy” person, because this kind of person would be prepared to face any kinds of problems or situation. He or she will not freak out (or freak out too much) if something unexpected happens simply because that he or she is expecting it, and the quality of being able to think clearly without the influence of emotion as a result of facing something unexpected, is often what get you through the problem. I guess that’s how I have been thinking about my life and its meaning. I want to be a good stoic, who lives a moderate life, for today, and for the community and not just for myself.