Things I’ve Come to Believe

Recently acquired ideas on the life well-led

Posted Oct 29, 2020

 Mike Zuidgeest, Noun Project, CC S0
Source: Mike Zuidgeest, Noun Project, CC S0

We all have long-held beliefs, but it might be more valuable to you if I share my more recently acquired or revised ones:

Relationships

With your partner, maximize time on what comes easily, whether sex, chatting, gardening, watching TV together, whatever. Couples seem to spend too much time working on their relationship’s weaknesses, often with results that aren't worth the effort. It may be more fruitful to skirt the problems and focus on what works naturally.  For example, I know a couple that argues mightily about their child. What’s worked best for them? Not yet more exploration—They've explored it to death. What's worked? Saying, "Let's change the subject.” They move on to some more agreeable topic or activity and the rancor about the child quickly fades.

Know your parents better. Ask them about themselves: what they care about, what they’re thinking about, what they were like as kids, teens, and young adults.

Work

I've concluded that the so-called BadAss is generally to be avoided. A number of bestselling books and movies glorify the BadAss. Well, at least in my world, BadAsses tend to project more confidence than their competence justifies. Worse, they’re disempowering and demotivating to others. Better to work with and for gentler souls: Yes, they’re intelligent and can, when needed, make a crisp, unilateral decision, but they default to empowering others and to kindness.

Money

Neither money nor possessions beyond a bare middle-class existence likely yield more happiness. Indeed, the Dalai Lama warned that more wealth means more worry.

In my judgment, enduring happiness is so rarely to be found that it isn’t worth seeking. A wiser goal is moderate contentment. And the most likely path to that is Freud’s classic formulation: good work, someone to love, and something to look forward to.

Emotional health

Staying busy promotes mental health. Some experts advocate slowing down so we can face our problems. But my clients with garden-variety anxiety and sadness have more often found that staying busy improves their mental health more than slowing down to further explore their malaise. I recall a client who self-described as anxious and sad. We filled her days with worthy activity. I then asked how her anxiety and sadness were. She replied, “I’m too busy for all that.” Of course, some people’s mental problems do require slowing down, careful analysis, and perhaps medication, but the power of busyness may be underrated.

People

I've reluctantly come to conclude that most people are pretty selfish. It's embarrassing for me to admit, but until recently, I thought most people were basically giving. But in recent years, I've too often seen that to be untrue. Yes, they may do little nice things, but when you really need help, their altruism is far less certain. For example, I know someone whose husband got multiple sclerosis, whereupon she divorced him because she didn’t want to care for him. So much for the solemn vow made before family and friends (and God?), "to love and cherish . . .  in sickness and in health . . .  'til death do us part."

Miscellany

No response has replaced “no.”  It's rude when people ignore a request rather than take a moment to decline it. It often takes courage and work to make the request, so the person deserves an answer rather than to be left hanging. Alas, today, no response seems more common than "no."

There is a time to speak and a time to be quiet, including with friends. There seems to be ever less tolerance of divergence from the zeitgeist’s orthodoxy. Expressing such dissent is more likely to strain friendship and work relationships than to encourage more full-dimensioned thinking. Today, it may be wiser than ever to assess the risk/reward of speaking up.

Life goes by so fast. Most people who are older are amazed by it but it’s true. It seems like only yesterday when I was a kid practicing basketball in the playground. Savor every moment . . . while you can.

I read this aloud on YouTube.