Relationship guru Maggie Scarf relates a story about a memorable party she and her husband once gave. As she tells it, a somewhat plastered guest overturned a punch bowl, which landed in the leek soup. Two couples left with the wrong spouses, several noisy quarrels broke out, and Scarf herself seriously considered leaving and staying at the neighbors’ for the night.
As a culture, we’ve always had ambivalent feelings about feelings of desire. The Christian tradition takes a dim view of desire, because it tends to focus on ephemeral satisfactions of this world rather than eternal rewards of the next world. Western philosophers, on the other hand, mostly view desire as fundamental. To be human is to desire what what we don't have.
In his book Freedom Evolves, the philosopher Daniel Dennett tells about a young father who forgot to drop off his infant daughter at her day-care center on his way to work. She spent the day locked in his car in a hot parking lot. When he returned to his car, she was still strapped into her little car seat in the back seat, dead.
Failure lurks everywhere. Nearly half of all new businesses fail within four years. About three-quarters of students who apply to top colleges aren’t accepted. More than 90% of people who resolve to lose weight fail to do so. No matter how carefully we calculate our odds and make our decisions, failure is one of the constants in life.
To ask how I spend my time focuses mainly on me, as though I am independent of the people and world around me. To ask how I invest my attention, on the other hand, focuses on how I engage with the people and world around me.
In Arthur C. Clarke’s novel Childhood’s End, a highly cerebral species of aliens known as the Overlords have been studying the human race from their spaceship, but they have encountered one puzzle they cannot solve. Why do humans spend so much of their time playing with, listening to, and preoccupied by meaningless tonal patterns—something the humans call music?
Often the most important things in our lives remain hidden in plain sight, obscured by the rush of routine or the pull of progress. Sometimes, the most we can do is simply focus on the next thing, whatever is most urgent. In so doing, we slowly become oblivious to what’s most important.
Alan Watts, who died about 40 years ago, was one of the most widely read philosophers of the 20th century. He was best known as the leading Western interpreter of Eastern philosophy, especially Zen Buddhism. In 1971, Watts recorded a half-hour television program titled “A Conversation with Myself.”
The ancient warrior Odysseus and Elliot Rodger represent two different ways of managing male sexual desire. One sees male sexual desire, however overwhelming it may be at times, as ultimately the responsibility of men. The other approach, which has predominated throughout history, blames women and makes them responsible.
The things we do each day end up fitting into three categories: things we instinctively do, things we habitually do, and things we have to make decisions about doing. Blaise Pascal, a 17th-century French mathematician and philosopher, once described habit as our second nature. Our first nature is nature itself, Pascal observed, and habit is a second nature.
On autopilot, it’s easy to relax and stop paying attention. We stop paying attention to our bodies: what we eat and how much we exercise. We stop paying attention to our minds: what we fill them with. And we stop paying attention to our relationships. The human equivalent of an autopilot is a habit. It’s what we do without thinking.
The old English proverb asserts itself with complete assurance: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Like many time-worn sayings, this claim that mind always rules over matter rings true only some of the time. Sometimes we don’t have the will; sometimes we lose our way. What should we do then?
Successful people have the ability to get things done, whether they are climbing the corporate ladder, making the world a better place, or transforming their personal lives. But some people are more effective in these endeavors than others. What’s the secret to personal power?
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about noise and silence. Maybe it’s because I live in New York City, the vortex of volume. Especially in the summer, noise hammers at me from all sides. It’s like the world is a bell and I’m the clapper. By the end of the day, I feel quite jangled. My guess is that you sometimes do too, whether you live in a city or not.
Everyone wants to be happy, but the word "commandment" has a harsh ring to it, as though bad things will happen if you don't comply. The word actually derives from a Latin term meaning "to recommend" or "to entrust." During twenty years of counseling people in the best of times and the worst, I've found that good things happen when people follow these ten recommendations.
The Star Trek television series popularized the idea that a person or object could be dematerialized at one location, beamed to a different location, and rematerialized there. Even if the technical issues are resolved, as the physicist Michio Kaku says will happen within a century, the question is whether an individual’s identity would survive the transport.
When I ask people in passing how things are going, the most consistent answer I get back is that they’re busy. On the one hand, this is no surprise: everyone has to be doing something every minute of every day. On the other hand, I take this statement somehow to mean that they’re merely busy, as if all the hustle and bustle isn’t adding up. So what are we doing with our t
A vacation is a time when we empty out all the routine stuff of our everyday lives, in order to make vacant our homes and offices, maybe even our minds. A vacation also requires that we figure out what to put back into our minds and homes and offices when we return. Does everything go back into the same place? Or do things look different now?
The Powerball Lottery jackpot currently stands at $550 million—about $275 million after taxes to a single winner. That’s a lot of money by almost anyone’s standards. Whether you buy a ticket or not, it’s worth asking yourself what you would do if you won.
Each one of us—not only human beings, but every leaf, every weed, everything whatsoever—exists as it does only because everything around it exists as it does. Without the center, there is no circumference; without the circumference, there is no center. Each individual and its universe are inseparable.
The commonplace experiences that dominate the lives of many people on earth—hunger, poverty, and violence—are mainly statistics to us. Most of the time, thankfully, they don't affect our way of life. And while that’s a good thing for our physical wellbeing, it’s not necessarily good for our souls.
I confess to feeling deeply ambivalent about Earth Day. On the one hand, having been born to a Mennonite family on a dairy farm in central Delaware, I love the earthiness of Earth Day. On the other hand, Earth Day was founded not because of what is right with the earth but what’s wrong with it.
John Krakauer’s spellbinding book Into the Wild tells the true story of Christopher McCandless, a top student athlete who graduates from Emory University, gives his $24,000 in savings to charity, abandons everything else, and hitchhikes to Alaska to live in the wilderness. McCandless roams at will—“Ultimate freedom.” It’s Walden Pond with fewer trees and cooler weather.
On a Tuesday several weeks ago, one hundred and fifteen men gathered in secret to decide who among them would become the most powerful religious leader in the world. Setting aside the question of whether anyone should wield such power, the question before Pope Francis is how he should use it.