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Miserably happy


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“The greatest discovery of any generation is that a human can alter his life by altering his attitude.” 
― William James

William James, the “Father of American psychology”, was indeed a superb man. He is especially great because of his story, early beginnings in life and how he transformed his circumstances in spite of having everything against him.

The early life of James was harsh, born into a wealthy family, great things were expected from him. When he was young he was temporarily blinded and because of it, became tone deaf. He also suffered from a terrible stomach condition that caused uncontrollable vomiting and adding to these, he had crippling back problems that made him had to stay at home for months on end. While crippled, he developed a love for painting, and during his hard childhood and adolescence, painting was the only thing he could and liked to do, unfortunately, nobody appreciated his art enough to buy it.

All the while, his brother Henry James was already a world-renowned novelist, following Henry’s success, William’s sister became a famous diarist. His father, disappointed,  used his connections to send him to Harvard medical school, but the medical school didn’t really appeal to William. He said while visiting a mental hospital: “I feel I have more in common with the patients than with the doctors”. 

After failing in medical school he decided to get away from everything and travel to Brazil in seek of adventure on an anthropological expedition.

Miraculously he managed to get to Brazil without dying in spite of his weak health. However, when he arrived he contracted smallpox and the team members left him there to continue with the expedition. James managed to return home to an ever more disappointing father and was on the verge of suicide for months. Before he made the final jump out of this world while reading Charles Pierce, he made a decision that would change his life forever. He decided he would hold himself responsible for absolutely everything that happened in his life for one whole year and that he would do anything necessary to improve his circumstances, he would hold himself accountable for everything,  only after this he would leave the world for good. Good news, it worked. 

William James little experiment made him the Father of American psychology and his book: Principles of Psychology shook the foundations of psychology and still does to this day. 

Attitude, according to William James, is the single greatest definer of a successful and happy life. 

“We don’t laugh because we’re happy, we’re happy because we laugh.” 
― William James

Personally, I’ve had the opportunity to test this by myself, in the mountains. 

The mountains 

Climbing a mountain is hard. 

It requires previous training, proper nutrition and physical as well as mental stamina, lots of it.

If you want to climb a 19,000 feet mountain, be prepared to wake up 1 AM in the morning from the stinky refuge full of other alpinists that smell just like a man should smell after not showering for a week, get out of the cozy and warm sleeping back and change yourself into your climbing gear which includes: An underarmour shirt, a regular T-shirt (everything has to be dry-fit to avoid hypothermia), a sweatshirt, one big jacket, underarmour pants, hiking pants, snow boots, headlamp, wind-proof jacket, and gloves. Then get your backpack, which you already prepared the day before with crampons, trekking poles, ice ax, glacier glasses, peanuts, granola bars, avocados, lots of water and Gatorade, warmers for your hands and feet so you don’t get frostbite and a couple of beers to have in the summit (if you get there). Then it’s time to have a light breakfast of fruit, oatmeal, frozen Nutella sandwiches, and some cereal, then start the trek at 14 Fahrenheit in the middle of the quite and starry night, the chilly wind blowing into your covered face. 

The trek starts at 13,000 so that means that you have to ascend 6,000 feet to get to the summit. Everything is colder and harder because of the altitude. When you ascend above 13,000 feet your body starts behaving funny, there is not enough concentration of oxygen and so your lungs have to work harder to process the oxygen which means that everything is more tiring.

The more you go up, the harder it gets.

Hydration and food intake is supremely important as well, you are always losing water in altitude because it evaporates from your body faster than in lower altitudes. The physical effort your heart and body are in is four times harder because of the lack of oxygen, cold and altitude, and so you are constantly losing massive quantities of energy. You have to be constantly eating, even though you don’t really want to. 

Most people don’t make it to the summit, they are either underprepared or back down because they get altitude sickness and they start vomiting and having headaches or are simply too tired to continue. Sounds gruesome? I’m not going to lie, it really is a massive grind.  

Despite all of these, the happiest people I know, are mountaineers. No doubt about it.

Why?

Well, I have my theories. In the mountain, there comes a point where there is no “backing down”. When you are high enough, you have to go through it or you can literally die, you are too high and the terrain is too hard for people to carry you without putting their lives as well in danger.

You also have all the reasons to be angry, sad, desperate and complaining but up there, a strong realization comes and enlightens you. Every single complain and every bad attitude you indulge in will only hinder you and make you even more miserable. Opportunity cost.

The way in which you choose to face the mountain is everything. No matter how tired, how fed up you are about it all, you can always choose to smile and this tiny realization makes all the difference. 

“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” 
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

You can see people laughing about the gruesome circumstances and their cramps and altitude sickness. Seeing it happen is so twisted and perverted and cool and so deeply stoic that you cannot help to laugh as well. I’ve seen a 67-year-old woman up there with the blizzard blowing in her face singing frosty the snowman to keep the attitude on good levels. 

Mountaineers are, unknowingly, self-taught stoics. They just have no other choice but to practice it, and hell, they are good at it. They are indeed, miserably happy people. 

The mountains have their own special way of teaching lessons. They are hard and indifferent, they don’t care if you die, in fact, they often kill people, and for this grim reason, they are such great teachers.

In the mountains, there is no room for error, laziness or whining. Either you take responsibility for your life or you die, or worse, kill yourself with others as well. 

Responsibility and attitude, these are the lessons the mountains teach you.

The summit 

Then you get to the summit.

The summit, getting it is truly marvelous, indescribable feeling. It is and will be one of the core experiences of your life, the hard work, the suffering and everything else is worth it once you get there, it is not only a mountain in the physical world but also on the mind.

This is the reason mountaineers get back to the mountains and to the grind and never get tired of them, they come to the mountains to find strength, to discover that the true power is always inside, never outside. They go back to connect with that inner and endless fire, a fire that permeates every other area of their lives and that lightens up everyone around them.  

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.  ― Albert Camus

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Business advice, Conquering Fears, Modern problems, Psychology, Self development, Uncategorized

Opportunity cost.


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Suddenly, you wake up in the back of a car. You don’t know why you are there and you feel a bit disoriented, the driver drives calmly. You are wearing a dark suit. If this is a kidnap, it’s certainly a really weird one. Five minutes later the car stops at a mausoleum.

The driver opens your door and you ask him where the hell are you, he just smiles at you and points inside the mausoleum. There are trees, green grass and people dressed in black talking and walking inside. Now you are curious about what this is all about. You get down the car, feel the breeze on your cheeks, a bit of cold, and the tightness of your black tie, you loosen it up a bit and start walking inside. This is definitely a funeral, you can hear a young girl weeping silently beside you. Inside, members of your family and friends surround you but nobody notices you are there, you yell and everyone seems oblivious to your screams, what the hell is happening, you hurry to get to the coffin to see whose funeral this is and as you push the people around the coffin, you realize to your dismay, that the person inside the coffin is you.

You are already dead and nobody seems to notice that you are standing there, watching your cold and motionless body. It seems, that the gods granted you the gift of watching your last appearance on earth.

GraveyardThe procession begins and you sit there, watching your family, your friends and the people who knew you.

The time for the speeches come and a member of your family goes up.

 

 

What does he say? What are his memories with you? Are they happy? Is he glad he was your kin?

Now, your best buddy.

Now a co-worker.

What do they say? How do you feel? Are you happy? Are you proud?

What did you leave behind?

Ah, the magic of Memento Mori. To put things in perspective, to sweep away what isn’t important and to give place to what really matters, what really matters in the end at least. Death is always near, always walking, sleeping, always at our side but we keep forgetting.

“You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire” 
― Lucius Annaeus Seneca, On the Shortness of Life 

Opportunity cost

You are always choosing. Even when you think you aren’t choosing, you are choosing not to choose.

Many times, most of the time, you don’t even choose for yourself but you are letting something or someone choose for you. Ignorant, ignorant of your power, you let yourself be guided by other people’s agendas, blind to the opportunities and the possibilities presented for you. Every time you neglect a good opportunity, you incur in a cost, opportunity cost.

How?

By letting the things that are not under your control choose for you.

For example, Facebook or Instagram. Imagine you’ve arrived at your house after a long and arduous day of work, you don’t even think about having dinner, you feed the dog, put pajamas on and get straight down to bed. There are two things on your bedside table, a book you’ve been reading for a month that will make you fall asleep in 10 minutes top, and your phone. You grab your phone and open Instagram, just for a while (you say to yourself), 1 hour later you are still awake scrolling down the endless flow of pictures and memes. The next day you are tired and cranky and find yourself cursing damn Instagram as you open it again.

That right there is slavishness. The decision was made not by what is best for you but by the instant gratification you got out of your phone. That decision has a big opportunity cost as well, the opportunity cost was your proper rest, happiness and productivity for the next day. All that in the simple and non-threatening choice of scrolling down on Instagram, just for a while before sleeping.

1210979-7“It is not that we have so little time but that we lose so much. … The life we receive is not short but we make it so; we are not ill provided but use what we have wastefully.”
― Lucius Annaeus Seneca 

When you choose to do something, you have to be aware that you are spending your most valuable asset, time. We don’t think of time as an asset and that is wrong, very very wrong.

Your life is composed of moments, millions of them. Each and every moment you have control over how you are going to respond to what you are doing, to what happens to you and your dispositions towards it.

The better the choices you make at each moment, the higher the probabilities that you will find yourself smiling at the end, at your funeral.

Making choices, the right ones.

It’s easier to make bad choices than right choices.

At the moment it’s easier to “go with the flow” and let tiredness or laziness or feeling, in general, decide whether you finish your job or not, whether you grasp opportunity, whether you open facebook or a book, whether you go out with your friends and socialize or stay watching Game of Thrones for the 5th time.

It’s easier to fall into slavish choices because they seem to be more palpable in comparison to the better choices which seem far away in the future. Nevertheless, you have to become aware of the opportunity cost at the moment, the opportunities are presented alongside the slavish choices every time, but conscious effort is needed, otherwise, you’ll become blind to them.

Your awareness of the opportunities determines how much of your life is really under your control. A true stoic is aware of the costs of his choices and so makes his decisions accordingly.

Therefore, learning to ask yourself about the opportunity cost of your decisions becomes paramountly important.

Once the decision to make informed choices is made, a universe of possibilities will open. A universe you were blind to before. Open your eyes and see.

The present moment

“But life is very short and anxious for those who forget the past, neglect the present, and fear the future.” 
― Seneca

additional_f105d867a9d07dffb5271c52e342d908e7950e26-8All we have is the present moment.

There is no other place or time where you can make choices or anything else. Just right here, right now. The power to figure out the best course of action is under your full control right now. Not in the past, not in the future, but right now.

It might seem that the little choices in life don’t matter much compared with the years you are going to live. But in reality, they do, first, because you don’t know when you are going to die, it could be tomorrow or in an hour. Second, because every single choice you make determines everything in your life, it’s all connected.

The sad thing would be to be at your funeral and know that you had the power, in your hands, and you chose not to take it, letting slavishness take control and choose to be dead long before your funeral.

Don’t let that happen. Think about how much time is wasted in pettiness, all that time could be used investing in a great life and gratitude instead.

Choose the path of greatness. Choose to see opportunity, open yourself up towards possibility. There is where true control is, in your choices.

“You live as if you were destined to live forever, no thought of your frailty ever enters your head, of how much time has already gone by you take no heed. You squander time as if you drew from a full and abundant supply, though all the while that day which you bestow on some person or thing is perhaps your last.” 
― Seneca

Subscribe and receive for free the Askesis ebook to further develop your practice of stoicism. 

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Stoic answers is committed to the spread of knowledge and a cosmopolitan worldview. Our mission is to create a sanctuary online for serious stoic contemporary thinking. No ads, no paywall, no clickbait – just thought-provoking ideas from the great ancient Stoics and contemporary knowledge, free to all. But we can’t do it without you.

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