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Category: Philosophy (page 1 of 4)

Conflicting Ideals

One of my goals in life is to avoid living conflicting philosophies.  This means thinking one way of living is best for me, yet contradicts other held beliefs without knowing it.  It is very easy to conflict yourself, and the more you learn, the stronger the realization.  It goes along with the lines of “the more you know, the more you can know” and you often “don’t know what you don’t know”. This is shown by the Dunning-Kruger Effect:

In the field of psychology, the Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias wherein people of low ability suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their cognitive ability as greater than it is. The cognitive bias of illusory superiority derives from the metacognitive inability of low-ability persons to recognize their own ineptitude.

Without the self-awareness of metacognition, low-ability people cannot objectively evaluate their actual competence or incompetence

Source

Mark Mason recently published a great short read on The Value of Money (stop here and read the article now).  His posts sums up my beliefs on money and wealth quite well, and how people wrongfully misinterpret their goals.  Money isn’t the goal, it is what the money gives you that you *think* you want.  But humans are also very bad at predicting what they want, what will make them happy, etc:

How great would it be to win a brand new car? How horrible would it be to get laid off from your job? Research by psychologist Dan Gilbert at Harvard University suggests, not that great and not that horrible (respectively). Among the many things Gilbert studies is how people make predictions about future events—specifically, how we make predictions about how we’ll feel about future events. One of the most important questions we ask when making any decision is “how will this make me feel?” But no matter how much time we spend thinking about the future, we don’t get any better at predicting it. That’s why, as Gilbert writes in his book Stumbling on Happiness, divorce lawyers and people who remove tattoos continue to have a steady stream of customers.

Source: Stumbling Upon Happiness book

One of the fundamental conflicting ideals plaguing modern society is simply put as this: in a capitalistic society where the incentive is money, it doesn’t align with the what humans really want – wellbeing. The vast majority of modern day humans have conflicting ideals here.

It’s easy to get caught in the stir of this mixing machine.  While people around the world are vastly different in culture, beliefs, ways of life, habits, and appearance, humans all universally want a good wellbeing, to be happy, and to not suffer.  This is universal, and this should therefore be our goal in collective society.  All good comes from wellbeing, so we should maximize this.  It becomes a philosophical discussion in itself, but some pieces of it have quite straightforward answers.  For example, there are 1 billion people suffering *unnecessarily* from extreme poverty (read The Life You Can Save).  This is a situation where suffering  is definitely occurring unnecessary, is solvable right now, and the barrier is simply human connection and communication.

Now with this said, in a capitalistic society the goal and incentive isn’t human wellbeing, it is money.  People can create companies that destroy villages, families, cities, countries, and lives.  Yet they make money, their goal and incentive.  Politicians can make agreements and work together to increase their GDP, not necessarily increase wellbeing or reduce suffering. Most peoples lives in modern society are taken up by work that is entirely incentivized by money.  In fact, 70-80% of Americans don’t like their jobs or otherwise hate what they do (Source). They’re caught in the machine where every bit of society tells you to make money, buy a house, buy stuff you don’t need, and then finally retire at the end of life when you hopefully have money.  In fact, we spend most of our time in effort to simply earn money – how crazy is that.  It is entirely backwards and contradicts what we really want.  People don’t want or necessarily need more money, they need a new perspective that changes how they live their lives.  They need freedom – freedom to choose, freedom of time, freedom to think.  Consumerism has plagued us to spend all our money on stuff we don’t need, or to spend all our time making money so we can buy time later (a vacation or early retirement), or so we can buy all the abundance of consumerism that we don’t need.

Our motivational systems are off.  While the vast majority of modern western society is motivated by money, what people really want is to be happy.  And money and happiness aren’t directly coordinated (Source). We should instead be motivated by helping others, learning more so we can better help others and ourselves, using our creativity to create things we think should exist, traveling to broaden our perspectives – all things which are proven to increase wellbeing – again something that universally humans want.  In short, society is living with conflicting ideals.

The bottom line here is that we should really be questioning our incentives and goals in society.  I don’t have a good alternative to capitalism, but money is certainly not our goal as humans.  And while it may increase the collective human wellbeing on some levels, it also causes a grand amount of unnecessary suffering.

Philosophy of boundaries

Intuitively, open borders sound good.  Living in Southeast Asia and seeing the massive restrictions on the peoples ability to travel outside their countries is sobering.  You can’t choose where you’re born, and simply being born from a country with an unfavorable passport sucks.  With that said, these barriers do serve a role.

Thais have a hard time getting a visa into South Korea, for example, because many Thais go there, overstay their visa, and never return to Thailand, therefore causing South Korea to block Thais in the future for obtaining a visa.  This reaction totally makes sense.

In the past, boundaries made a lot of sense.  As people settled throughout the world, people formed their own local communities, and coordinated together for the better of the group. We were naturally territorial due to threats from outsiders – it’s in our DNA.  One of the awkward feelings of traveling is overcoming that innate feeling of distrust of foreigners and trusting people of different beliefs, experiences, and outlooks on life.  Some people hate this feeling, other people love it. It is the feeling of walking into the unknown.

Today is a starkly different world where these “local communities” are now nations, and we no longer just work together, we interact almost as if our own tribe.  I live in Thailand, live a life nearly as a Thai person would, yet I’m not a Thai citizen, have a US passport, and view the world through the lens of my experience.  Our communities are merging, aka globalization.

So with this change, an important question to ask is: does managing the world through individual nation states make sense? One policy change America makes can influence all of Europe, does it make sense for only Americans to have this sort of influence?  It’s worth thinking about.

I’m not sure of a solution to the issue of nation states, but I do think politically and as communities we should be looking at the bigger picture.  When a president, mayor, or other politician gets elected, his goal shouldn’t be to just better the nation or community they’re from, but should be to better the world.  When we make decisions, we shouldn’t just think of ourselves and the our community, but instead our entire world, which is really our community.  We all share the world, and it is becoming ever smaller.

We can communicate in seconds via the internet, we can fly cheaper and cheaper and faster and faster.  By nearly all means, it does feel smaller.  We live in a time where these issues of boundaries and borders are most important.  How we cope with it will decide how our future world looks.  Will we fight and destroy ourselves? Will we be able to resolve the differing value systems between the west and the Middle East? Time will tell.

Because we’re all individuals, the best we can do is lead by example.  Are you living a life that you think is good for the whole? In other words, if everyone lived like you, would the world be what you want it to be? Are you living a sustainable life?  If not, it’s worth noting.  You can’t be another person, but you can do your part to make the world what you want it to be.

I just finished reading “A Strange Death of Europe” which shows how immigration into Europe will radically change Europe. It already has, however subtle it may seem. Is it for the better? The place the Europeans call home is now likely to become a majority-foreign land.  This means if you’re a British born Caucasian, you’ll soon be a minority in England.  This speaks somewhat of the true trends of other countries as well.  Mass immigration radically changes the makeup, culture, belief system, and economic structure of a country. Uncontrolled immigration leads to countless other issues.  Europe isn’t even sure how many immigrants has come in as the control system has been flooded.

On one end of the spectrum we have all open borders where humans can freely roam the earth.  On the other end we have completely closed borders where you are born dictates the space on earth where you can roam. The optimal solution is likely somewhere in between. With entirely open borders I’m not certain we can function effectively as economically everyone would exploit the wealthiest spots, therefore destroying their structure and contributions to the greater good of humanity.  Places like the US wouldn’t exist with entirely open borders, and the scientific contributions the US has made to the greater whole exist, in part, through collaboration of groups of people – such as a university being within a community, but enabling groups of people to work together in seclusion. However, if immigration wasn’t possible, the US would be severely missing out on many of the people that have contributed to make the US what it is.  The same is true for the UK and many other western and eastern societies that have contributed to the greater good of humanity.

I’m unsure of where on the spectrum we should be.  If Murray in right in his book, we need to make changes in how we integrate.  When a new immigrant goes to a new place and culture, how should he or she integrate? If we allow it to naturally happen without defined systems of integration, we end up like London where people don’t necessarily integrate, and form their own communities.  Is this really constructive to the greater good? Probably not.  We’d be better off integrating people into our culture and society, working *with* each other to accomplish the things in life we want to accomplish, not as a city or country, but as a world.  We should be discussing what these things are.  Is it the pursuit of scientific understanding of the world to cure disease, solve carbon pollution, build maps of the world for better navigation, or is it something else? It’s worth criticizing bad ideas, openly talk about problems and solutions, and be open minded in discovering simply better ways to live.

Beyond Our Default State

Our default state is the state which we default to subconsciously.  It’s what we do with our instinct, if we aren’t aware of what’s actually going on.  It influences the majority of the actions, decisions, movements, and thoughts in our lives.

Our default state is explained by how we’ve evolved, what we’ve evolved to, and the reasons we evolved to those states.  For example, we’ve evolved to be social creatures, utilizing family and social connections to build relationships, which help us grow and raise a family together.  Studies show that relationships play a key role in how we live our lives, and how satisfied we are with them. As a result, relationships hold a lot of emotions within them (love, lust, trust, etc.).

Default states can often be found by looking at societies or populations of people and seeing how they behave.  As a whole, different actions and decisions will describe default states.  Psychology is such a study.  When we’re making moment to moment decisions and actions, the vast majority happen subconsciously, resorting to our default state to make such decisions.  This is why building good habits and removing bad ones is so important.

The only way to influence our default state is to be aware of it.  For example, if our default state is the path of least resistance, consciously knowing that we will default to that state will enable us to then go beyond the path of least resistance and perhaps take a path that is more difficult, but more beneficial to our lives.  Without being aware of our default state, we don’t change it, and will stay in the default.  This is why it is called the default state.

Beyond Our Default State

Going beyond our default state happens whenever we consciously think about why or how we’re doing something, and then change our behavior.  For example, if we decide to pass up a chocolate bar even when our minds crave it, we’re overriding our instinct with our conscious thoughts, which then changes our actions – instead of eating the chocolate, we don’t eat it or eat something else.

Because our actions always go to the default state unless overridden by our conscious mind, going beyond our default state to understand more about our actions can help us prevent harm and help us produce things in life that make us happier, more satisfied, healthier, more useful people.

Our instinctual default state isn’t meant to make us happy, it simply tells us how we’ve evolved.  But since we’re now in a world which is significantly different than our evolved brain and body, it’s important to question more about our default state, our instinct, and our subconscious – and go beyond our default state.  By doing so, we can become conscious of many of the actions which are potentially not helping us, but otherwise may be hurting us and those around us.

Why is it important to be aware of our default states?

For one, it makes us more aware and mindful of what we’re doing.  Because actions in our lives are made up mostly of things we do without thinking about it , being aware of it makes us more mindful of what we’re doing.  Secondly, the default state isn’t necessarily a good state for us to be in – in fact more often then not it may not be.  For example, our instincts tell us to binge on sugar and watch TV.  As we’ve evolved, sugar was often limited to when we came across a fruit tree, and because of its scarcity whenever we came across a fruit tree, we’d binge.  Our default state is to binge on sugar – it create a craving/reward mechanism in our brain which is by definition addictive.

Fast forward to modern day, and our instincts are still the same, but our environment is completely different – sugar is abundant everywhere.  If we simply follow our default state, we’ll die a young death from over-consuming sugar, which is actually what most of the world is trending towards (obesity rates are increasing across the world mostly due to overconsumption – following our default state).  By questioning whether we should eat too much sugar, we’re going beyond our default state and becoming conscious of what we’re doing, which allows us to become healthier.  Our instincts don’t tell us what’s good for us, our instinct simply tells us our default state. This is why it is so incredibly important to go beyond our default state as often as possible – to better understand ourselves, our actions, and our decisions. Without doing so, we’re at the mercy of our instincts.

Whenever we follow our curiosity, we are going beyond our default state and attempting to understand more about a subject, using the resources available to us to enlighten us on a subject.

Whenever we decide to consciously exercise, we are going beyond our default state to become healthier, recognizing that our default state will lead us to sit on the couch or in an office.

Whenever we read a book, we’re going beyond our default state to learn, be entertained, become more creative.

The default state of humans can be summarized by how we’ve evolved, here are a few examples:
Health – We’ve evolved to be physically active, using our bodies for the purpose of survival – hunting, building, moving, etc. Our diets were restricted to what we could find in nature due to scarcity.  Most people were physically active by default, and therefore were mentally so. Today, with abundance of everything (including food), this is not the case.  We must go beyond on our default state to overcome it.
Happiness – While difficult to measure, modern day is full of “what makes us happy?” questions, and in part this is due to the unique world we’re living in – potentially causing more unhappiness than people had in the past. Asking these questions goes beyond our default state where we may not be satisfied, fulfilled, and happy with our lives.  By studying happiness, we can begin to understand the science of what makes people happy and satisfied with their lives, which we can then use to apply to our own.  After all, we’re all human.
Wealth –  Because money is an object which dictates our freedom and how we can spend our time, people can go beyond the default state to strategize how to best manage time to create wealth.  This, in my mind, is what entrepreneurship is – consciously recognizing that wealth is a barrier in life and figuring out how to best overcome it without sacrificing your life doing so.
Spirituality – The vast majority of people who believe in an organized religion learn it from their family, primarily their parents. Our default state is to believe what our parents say, because that is how we’ve evolved.  By overcoming our default state of belief, we can follow our curiosity and discover the other potential belief systems that influence how we view the world and therefore how we live our lives.

Going beyond the default state is about becoming aware of the actions we take and decisions we make, and correcting them to better fit the life we want to live, not solely relying on instinct to do such.

Inspiration for writing this came from the realization that I’m always trying to question my actions, which is really me questioning my default state.  Being curious about why things happen and how they happen led me to realize that this “default state” is often the wrong the state to be in.  We live in a world that evolution hasn’t caught up, so it’s ever more important to become conscious of our actions such that our instinct don’t lead us down the the wrong path.

The Path of Least Resistance

Marcus Aurelius, the emperor of Rome nearly 2,000 years ago from 161-180, wrote many personal notes about his life and how he saw it in the moment – how to live, what to live for, and why to live.  These notes acted as a reminder to him about how to live in times of stress, weakness, joy, sadness, and hardship, all of which he certainly endured as emperor.  These questions have answers relative to who is answering, and are questions that countless people have pondered before and since his time.  Aurelius was a practitioner of Stoicism, which certainly influenced how he answered such questions:

the Stoics taught that emotions resulted in errors of judgment which were destructive, due to the active relationship between cosmic determinism and human freedom, and the belief that it is virtuous to maintain a will (called prohairesis) that is in accord with nature. Because of this, the Stoics presented their philosophy as a way of life (lex devina), and they thought that the best indication of an individual’s philosophy was not what a person said but how that person behaved. To live a good life, one had to understand the rules of the natural order since they taught that everything was rooted in nature.
Source

In the book “Meditations”, which is a collection of his notes, Aurelius says:

The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.

Impediments to action, or anything, is called resistance.  More resistance is the way, Aurelius wrote, though the natural order is to take the path of least resistance.

In his book “The Obstacle is the Way”, Ryan Holiday argues that facing obstacles and leaning into resistance (obstacles themselves for example) is the “way” in which people improve, persevere, and accomplish meaningful things in life.   Without obstacles, we remain stagnant, lose progress and desire, and have nothing to show. Holiday suggests that often people with the most obstacles are the ones who make the greatest impact.

Holiday argues that obstacles don’t inhibit success, they create success and that readers should see “through the negative, past its underside, and into its corollary: the positive.”

In his book “Deep Work”, Cal Newport argues that deep work, work that requires intense cognitive focus, is what leads to living a meaningful life.  “A deep life is a good life”.  Doing deepwork isn’t easy, it’s resistance. But it’s what allows knowledge work to become valuable, and is required to accomplish meaningful work in the modern age of unlimited distraction.

In “The War of Art”, Steve Pressfield argues that resistance is universal, everyone has it, and it is from within.

When an electron flows through a circuit, it takes the path of least resistance. When we as humans go for walk, we walk in a way to preserve energy, the path of least resistance.  When there is a higher barrier of entry into a market to start a business (high resistance), there is less competition because most business don’t go into high barrier markets.

Everything in life is about making a path in a way from point A to B, and our default instinct is to always take the path of least resistance – preserve our energy, preserve our willpower, stop when it hurts, and avoid facing obstacles.  However, where real progress gets made and where we become better is when we’re pushing against that resistance.  The more consistently we push, the easier it becomes and the next barrier is then faced which requires further pushing.  The harder we push, the more we improve and the easier it gets. Things that once were barriers are looked at as stepping stones that make you who you are.

To demonstrate this clearly, I’ll use a personal example. When I used to actively compete in speedsolving puzzle competitions, one of the events was solving the Rubik’s Cube blindfolded.  It would consist of memorizing a scrambled cube, putting on a blindfold, and solving cube without looking at it.  When first faced with this challenge, it seemed impossible. Even after I knew the process of solving it, I was faced with resistance.  My first solve took me over 30 minutes to memorize after reading about various techniques.

Within a week of attempting several more solves and trying to push my memory limits, I was able to memorize in under 7 minutes – by facing the resistance, I became better, and without facing the challenge I wouldn’t have improved.  From there I pressed on the resistance and could memorize in under 45 seconds relatively easily.  Others have pressed the resistance even further and can go much faster.  When it becomes easy it means we’re not pressing hard enough into the resistance, and resistance is where real change happens.

In modern day where much of our lives are spent staring at computers and sitting in chairs, exercising is talked about by everyone.  It is a way to offset our sedentary lives.  Going to the gym is resistance.  Running when you’re already tired it resistance.  Lifting weights when your arms are fatigued is resistance.  But resistance is good, it means you’re improving.  Improvements don’t come without resistance.  And improvements (or seeing progress in life) is what fulfills people.

Tiny daily improvements lead to enormous progress. “We overestimate what we can do in a day but underestimate what we can do in a year.” Managing time is resistance.  Letting things flow as they come and go is the easy way, but not the way you improve, not the way you make progress, not the way you become fulfilled, not the way you do more with your time.

So, next time faced with a challenge or obstacle, know that resistance is the way.

Victory will never be found in the path of least resistance.
– Winston Churchill

If you’re interested more in this topic, these books are worth reading:

2016 Year in Review

It’s already that time of the year again where we look back on the last year of our lives and look forward to the next.  It is useful because it allows us to review what we did right, and what we can improve on in the future. You can see my previous years here: 20102011201220132014, 2015 . Here’s a look back in what I did in 2016.

  • I rang in the new year on Koh Chang in Thailand with some friends (Kemji, Austin, Kate, Josh, Champoo, Beth), a beer cooler, and an amazing beach sunset.
  • In January/February I spent a month in Indonesia firstly in Bali with Kemji and then 3 weeks in more remote Indonesia with my good friend Andrew.
  • In March I went to Samut Prakan to the Mueng Boran Ancient City with Kemji, and also to Hong Kong with a couple friends (Steve and Josh).
  • In April I went to Nan province for Songkran to spend time with Kemji’s family.
  • In May I went to Koh Samed and paraglided for the first time.  At the end of May went wakeboarding with friends in Bangkok.
  • In June I went to the US to visit family and travel with my girlfriend to San Francisco, Denver, Salt Lake City, and Las Vegas. I also bought a quadcopter drone, which has been fantastic for aerial photography.
  • In July, I road-tripped through Yellowstone to Canada with my friend Richard.
  • In August I went to Sweden and Romania to visit with my old friend Constantin.
  • In September/October I went back to Europe to travel with my brother John and his friends for a couple weeks to Oktoberfest in Munich, then to Prague, and Poland.
  • At the end of October I went to Phuket for celebrate Kemji’s birthday.
  • In November I went to Singapore, and also ran into my old friend Ayan from the Phillipines. At the end of November, we went to Koh Samed again with a few of Kemji’s friends.
  • For New Years this year I’m heading to the northern part of Thailand (Chiang Mai, Pai, and Chiang Rai) with Kemji.

What went well this year?

Health: Aside from all the time I was away from home and out of routine, I’d consider this year one of the best for my health in my life.  I was running or lifting weights 5 days a week, drank less than I had in previous years, slept consistently well, and only got sick once or twice.  Over the last 6 months or so I’ve been really working on my flexibility after being convinced that flexibility is one of the most important aspects of being healthy. I’m also on a 50+ daily meditation streak.  I can say I’m healthier now than I was a year ago.

Knowledge: I read nearly 30 books this year, and listened to countless podcasts.  I’m far more enlightened now than ever before, though it’s only a glimpse of what is to come.  I still find it incredible how much one can take away from reading a single good book. I’ve got into the routine of leaving a review of every book I read along with my takeaways – this provides a good record of my thoughts.

Business: I’ve launched several new projects and scaled out older ones.  I’ve learned quite a few big lessons this year and have increased my skills in various ways. This year has been one of the best I’ve ever had, with lots of lessons learned along the way.

What didn’t go so well this year?

Health: While I have improved my health from the last year and am making progress, I still have a long way to go.  Next year I’ll be drinking a maximum of once per month, and continuing to work on my fitness (endurance, flexibility, strength).

Writing: While I’ve written more this year, I still haven’t made writing a daily routine, which was one of my goals for the year.  I find writing not only brings new ideas into my mind, it forces me to coherently put down thoughts that otherwise may be jumbled in my mind.  It also provides a nice record of my thoughts as I grow older.

Knowledge: I’ve noticed when I travel I lose routine, and one of them is consistent studying/reading.  For example, when studying Thai language this year, if I was on the road I’d miss several days of studying in a row, or perhaps not read for a week.  This is something I need to work on – just because I’m on the road doesn’t mean I shouldn’t put aside time for these tasks.

What am I working toward?

I’ve had quite a few shifts in mindset this year that have influenced how I view life.  Part of this is driven by what I’ve read and learned this year, people I’ve talked to, and experiences I’ve had, and part I think is just myself growing up.  Thoughts are just thoughts, so I’ve began to realize that is just what they are. I’ve also shifted my mindset more toward financial freedom.  While my goal has always been to enjoy each day as much as possible without too much sacrifice, now I have some goals in mind in terms of “how can I become financially independent?” I’ve learned a lot about investing and 2016 was my first year where I actually started to build a portfolio of things that I consider long term investments. I plan to continue this practice into 2017 and beyond.

Health wise I plan to keep meditating daily and improving my practice.  I plan to attend a 10 day Vipassana meditation retreat in 2017, though unsure where that will be in the world.  I’m also working towards a free-standing hand stand, which has required me to work on my flexibility a lot, which obviously takes time and can’t be rushed.

Work-wise, I’m always trying to get better with managing time, setting goals and deadlines, working on routine, and balancing my work/hobbies.  It will be a life-long process but I’m quite happy with the rate of improvement.

All Together

Once again, this year was the fastest year of my life. Perhaps every year we get older will perceptually feel faster than the previous, though I’m unsure.  Perhaps it depends on circumstance and mindset, and the future is unpredictable. All I can do is live how I see best using the knowledge, relationships, and circumstances I have. I’ll end this year with my top 5 book recommendations of the year, and my top 5 posts of the year:

Books:

  • Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind – Yuval Harari
  • The Life You Can Save – Peter Singer
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman
  • World Order – Henry Kissinger
  • Free Will – Sam Harris

Posts:

Thanks for reading. Happy New year, see you in 2017!

Note: You can follow what I’m reading and things I find interesting daily on my G+Twitter and/or Facebook page.

Limiting Your Life For the Better

If you haven’t read the de-value of abundance article, read it first.

Suppose you’re born into a wealthy family for a moment and the concept of money doesn’t really exist because it has no real limits.  Because there aren’t limits, you naturally seek experiences that you want and crave, without limit.  Want a steak or lobster dinner every night? Want a brand new Mercedes for your 16th birthday? Want to live in the nicest 2 bedroom condo in the central park of town? You can, and you naturally will because you’re able to and the lifestyle seems fun. Others might even envy you for the lifestyle that seemingly so many others want.

You become used to living in the nicest places, used to eating the nicest food available, and used to driving in the most comfort.  Because you become used to it, you begin to value things that aren’t quite up to par as less valuable.  For example, if you have to sleep on the floor of your friends house for a week it will be much more difficult because you’re used to sleeping in luxury.  If you have to drive an old used car you’re more likely to complain because you’re used the Mercedes.  Or if you have to eat at a food court you’ll not enjoy it as much because you’re used to the nicest dinners in town.

Because most of the world is full of standard “living” by definition, surely by making yourself comfortable and used to above average “living”, it will inevitably lead to discomfort and lack of happiness when you’re in normal environments.  While you can certainly try to restrict yourself from “normal” environments, it is arguably better to be used to normal environments and restrict comfort and the de-value of “above average environments”.  You have to be able to be comfortable in “normal” conditions, which most of the world is made up of.

The more you have of something the less value it holds.  I wrote about this as the de-value of abundance.  $1 is a lot if all you have is $10. $1 is nothing if you have $1M.

Now, imagine living the luxurious life described aboved, as many do.  It is a life without, in this case, financial limits. Because we as humans by default seek experiences that we think we want and desire, we naturally tend to live lifestyles that accommodate our wealth (humans spend relative to their income). I think this is a flaw that has unintended consequences and is why most wealthier people tend to be less happy than the middle working class.  To represent what I meant in another way, take a look at the chart below:

wealth vs things you can buy

The red dotted line represents the financial wealth of a rich person, while the black dotted line represents the middle class.  The objects on the graph represent things you can buy in relation to your wealth.  An iPhone is affordable for the middle class, as is a steak dinner.  A house is above the black dotted line meaning it would require the middle class to work hard and save up to afford, and a car is below a house using the same logic.

If you’re rich, everything is below the line.  Nothing requires saving for, nothing requires waiting for, nothing requires working hard for in the future – you already have the wealth to get it.  Because this this creates unlimited opportunity to buy whatever you want, everything becomes abundant and each object/experience loses it’s value.

I used the money example above to demonstrate how life without limits (financially) ultimately leads to overall less enjoyable experiences (side note: did you know 70% of people who win the lottery go bankrupt in their lifetime?).  However, I propose that this doesn’t just apply to money, but applies to *everything* in life.  Anything abundant loses value.

There was a good conversation with Dan Bilzerian on the Joe Rogan podcast a couple months ago where they talked about happiness, listen to his response here (start at 2hr, 32min) – the way he describes it is what I’m describing in the chart above:
https://youtu.be/RX5Iw-XsWu4?t=9122

So how do we deal with this? The answer is somewhat counterintuitive…

Imposing Limits

Imposing limits on your life leads to overall more enjoyment, satisfaction, and happiness with your life. Limits help you hold value to most things you care about in life – most things that make you happy.

Like steak dinners? Limit yourself to one per month to keep the value of it high. Like nice cars? Rent a nice one every so often to get the feel and dopamine release, and the long to do it again.  If you buy it, that will inevitably fade. Get used to the “normal” life, not the “high” life.

Without limiting your life, you’ll end up being less happy, less fulfilled, and overall less satisfied with your life, assuming there aren’t other factors already limiting it for you.

Going back to the example of financial abundance (having lots of money), one of the theories is that when you have a lot of money, you have a lot of freedom.  You can take the nicest vacations, go to the most exotic places, eat the nicest food, buy the nicest cars.  Experiences that most people long for are in grasp, so you naturally pursue them.  After you’ve have a lot of these experiences and bought much of these goods, they become abundant themselves and therefore each additional experience is less valued, therefore leading to less things to look forward to, less things that excite you, less unique experiences to be had, etc.  This doesn’t mean a person with financial abundance has done everything there is to be done, it means each new experience no longer holds much value because they’ve had countless others ones – they’ve become abundant.

On the other side of the coin, if you always long for an experience and have to work long and hard for it, it is scarce (not abundant).  This makes the experience hold more value – as well as all future experiences you long for.  This effect keeps you excited, keeps you looking and working for more experiences, and that feat itself is what fulfills people.

In the book “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind”, Yuval Harari gives an excellent historical analysis of who we are, what we do, and why we do it (we being homo-sapiens).  There is an excellent chapter on happiness and meaning in which Harari writes: “Happiness depends on the correlation between objective conditions and subjective expectations.” While we aren’t really in control of our objective conditions so much, if we change our expectations, our happiness changes. It’s worth thinking about more, and realizing that most feelings in life come down to mindset, which influences what you end up doing with your life, how you live it, and how pleasurable your life is.  Below is the Chapter 24 audiobook which is definitely worth listening to (though I’d recommend reading the entire book):

Life is short, and sure it’s meant to be enjoyed.  Imposing limits isn’t meant to prohibit you from enjoying all the things you want in life, but if our goal is to be happy and maximize well being, limiting yourself is almost guaranteed the better way forward rather than indulging in every desire you have as often as you want.

For most of history, humans lived in scarcity of almost everything. Since the industrial revolution, there is now an oversupply of almost everything.  How do we deal with more goods than we can possibly consume? We market them and convince people why they should buy them, or why they need them.  We’re buying things that 5 minutes before we didn’t know even existed.  Consumerism convinces people that indulgence is good for you, where frugality is self oppression.  Consumerism has succeeded in it’s goal – we now live in a world of more abundance than ever before, being convinced and persuaded by society to indulge.  The affect of this abundance is less happiness, less satisfaction, more complaining, and less gratitude – a common theme amongst western culture today.

The Paradox of Choice, Again

Another major player in this is the paradox of choice.  It is basically that if you have abundant choices, you’re a) less likely to make a choice at all, and b) if you do make a choice, you’re less likely to be happy with it.  In a world of abundance, the selection of choices are much larger, and therefore the paradox is stronger.  Without putting in limits, it will lead to less appreciation of the things you have, and a longing for all the other choices that could be.  Or it leads to you choosing everything (and creating abundance) and therefore devaluing everything, ultimately leading to unhappiness and a lack of fulfillment.

Summary

The takeaway from this post is that, though counter intuitive, limiting your life and experiences likely leads to more appreciation, more enjoyment, more happiness, and more satisfaction of everything.  Confining your life in a way where you value everything in it as much as possible and don’t long for more and more likely leads to living a better life.  While this has been a common theme amongst people throughout the ages (Stoics, monks, etc.), in todays world of abundance it’s worth thinking about more closely and clearly.

So next time you notice yourself doing something in abundance, consider what limits you can place to increase the value of the experience rather than making it more abundant and de-valuing it.  Our instincts alone won’t lead us to happiness.