It’s a shame we can’t pass down memories. You spend your entire life figuring out how to live. Then, just as you start to hit your stride, you die. And with your death, so perish all of your experiences. All of your lessons learned. All of your trial and error. Gone.
If only someone would figure out a way around this problem…
There’s a Sci-Fi novel inside me that plays this scenario out. A bright inventor uncovers a method for merging memories with genetics. Consequently, each new generation receives the memories and experiences of their parents. With this inherited wisdom, people become more understanding, caring, and empathetic. They do a better job living life. Some outliers surely become more spoiled or more hardened, but the majority become greater versions of those before them.
Alas, with no real invention on the horizon and that book idea living solely in my mind, we must find a different way to navigate through life.
Meaning in Okinawa
At present, I am reading the book Ikigai by Héctor García and Francesc Miralles. Ikigai1 is a Japanese word that roughly translates to, “the happiness of always being busy.” Though what it really means is having a purpose in your life. Something that you spend time on each day because you want to. It can be one thing or many things. It is both about fulfillment and spending your time each day cultivating that fulfillment. Not sitting idly, but intentionally spending your time on fulfilling acts.
The book focuses on the Japanese province, Okinawa, where longevity and fulfillment thrive. Okinawa is a “blue zone” – an area where people live much longer than the average. For instance, within the town of Ōgimi, living over 100 is commonplace.
The book presents a roadmap. It says, this is what the Okinawans do. If you want to live a long, meaningful life, here’s how to do it too. Embracing Ikigai is embracing a life of doing what fills you up.
Viktor Frankl abided by similar principles. He viewed fulfillment as the target to aim for. In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl explained that he was patient number one for this new way of psychology. Later dubbed logotherapy2, Frankl used that which gave him meaning to survive his darkest days. Specifically, the time he spent in WWII concentration camps. Once out, he made it his mission to share his lessons with the world.
Paths up the mountain
There are philosophies that declare life is suffering, and that it can and should be accepted3. There are ideologies that teach you to weather the ups and downs of life4. Additionally, there are religions with loving deities5 and others with mean ones6. There are theories that what you do today will follow you into your afterlife7. And there are others that say nothing matters at all8. That you should live it up now because there is no tomorrow.
Who is right? Could one even be right?
Or is it like the Hindu proverb that states, “There are hundreds of paths up the mountain, all leading in the same direction, so it doesn’t matter which path you take. The only one wasting time is the one who runs around and around the mountain, telling everyone that his or her path is wrong.” Ironically, is this article the equivalent of me running around the mountain? I’ll leave that up to you.
Contradictions that garner results
Life philosophy and nutrition have a surprisingly lot in common. You have an ambiguous, hard to define goal. In the former: fulfillment or happiness or love. In the latter: abs or a nice body or a low fat percentage. Both life and nutrition have a lot of rules. They also have a lot of success stories all spouting contradictions. For instance, emotions are good. Emotions are bad. Logic is good. Logic is bad. Carbs are good. Carbs are bad. Fat is good. Fat is bad. Further, these “winners” all advocate that their way is the one and only way.
The right way.
Yet, you will find they both have what you desire. The woman who never eats bread and the woman who only eats bread have one thing in common: great abs. The man who hates his job and the man who loves his job have one thing in common: fulfillment.
By the way, if you really want to dig into the weeds, consider doctors. One professional says vitamins are the only way to be healthy. Another says vitamins are a great way to damage your body. One says you need to be vegan. Another says you need to consume more red meat. Where does this leave you? With frustration and confusion.
Too many shapes
Humans are multifaceted. Like two mismatched watch dials. As they rotate, they often cause problems since they don’t align. Only every 12th rotation do they line up perfectly. For that one rotation, everything is smooth. Then it’s back to lopsided mismatches.
Some relationships line up more often, but mismatching is the norm.
It’s for this reason that life advice is so hard to apply as a general statement. We have too many sides and too many chances for a mismatch. Even if the woman with great abs is sincere with her bread-only diet, her methodology may not work for you. Even if the man who hates his job is fulfilled, his theories may not work for you either. What you have is a hexagon trying to give advice to a triangle. Or a rectangle preaching to a pentagon. It may work for you or it may not. There’s only one way to find out.
Move forward with your own life philosophy
For those that follow my work, they do so because my shape resonates with theirs. What I talk about works for them. What I recommend works for them. For those that it doesn’t, they go somewhere else. And that is the lesson of this article: the best way for you to navigate through life is to create the rulebook for yourself.
Pick and choose the ideas that resonate with you. Ignore the others. Read as much as you can from as many corners of the world as you can. Test out new theories and see how they work out. Unfortunately, we can’t yet inherit memories from our ancestors. So the best we can do for now is build a system for ourselves.
Be intentional. Experiment with different ideologies. Find the mix that gives you exactly what you want in life.
PS: The eight different philosophies promised are noted throughout the article with superscripts1-8.