When we say we want to “improve” our lives, or to live a “better” life– what does that really mean?
The first thought:
What makes life worth living?
We didn’t ask to be birthed. We were thrust into this world without our permission.
The fact is that we are alive. At best we might live to be 120 years old. Unless you die in a texting-while-driving accident, most likely you aren’t going to die (too soon).
Also if you assume that an afterlife doesn’t exist– the question is:
What do you want out of your life? What do you desire to do, achieve, create, make, or obtain?
Life is more than pleasure
I think people make the mistake of thinking that happiness is pleasure.
To me, happiness is creative flourishing. Pleasure is more basic — eating pizza, drinking beer, blowing your load, etc.
Pleasure is an important part of life, but it isn’t the ultimate aim we have in life. Pleasure is generally a means to something else.
Creating things is pleasurable!
For example, I get a lot of pleasure while I am creating. Thus, pleasure is a good accompanying feeling while I am creating. Thus, the pleasure in itself isn’t what I want. What I truly desire is to just create more; create more epic things, and to always push my limits to the next level.
We desire COMFORT and FASHION
Nietzsche made an interesting point– he said that the happiness of the Englishman was two things:
Considering that we Americans descended from the British, I think these two things also apply to Americans, and most of the western world:
- We want MORE comfort in life (decrease of pain, stress, discomfort)
- We want to conquer our personal ennui or boredom in life, with fashion — fashion as clothing, fashion as cars, fashion as homes, etc.
Can you purchase a better life?
Can buying things improve your life?
Yes and no.
- Buying a laptop has improved my life, because it augments my thinking (I can think better with a laptop), I can do more, create more, process photos, create blog posts, etc.
- Buying a car is beneficial if you live in the suburbs, and it allows you more freedom of movement, to go to places you want to go (like the gym), or go buy groceries.
- Buying warm clothes in the wintertime is obviously beneficial, and owning a device that plays music is also beneficial to us.
- Buying a camera is beneficial if you want to make photographs as art, etc.
So there are a lot of things you can buy which can immediately improve or benefit your life.
Upgrading won’t improve your happiness
But I think the sucker thing is when we want to “upgrade” our tools, devices and vehicles– thinking that it will make us “happier”.
This is my personal rule: I only will buy something if I perceive that it will have a “10x” improvement in my life, which is almost nothing. Or if the new thing is 10x better than the previous thing.
Going from 0 to 1 is also a good way of thinking about it:
Not owning a car, then buying a car will improve your life dramatically (more than 10x benefits). However upgrading your older car to a new car will only give you a 5-10% “improvement” at best — which I don’t consider “worth it” from a monetary perspective.
So perhaps the only things we can purchase which will truly improve our lives are totally BRAND NEW innovations.
Will having more money improve our lives?
Will having MORE money make us MORE happy in life? Or will having MORE money IMPROVE our lives?
This is my thought:
Having a certain amount of money can REMOVE stressful things from your life, but having MORE money will not “add” happiness to your life.
For example, if I can barely make enough money to pay rent every month, obviously having enough money to pay my rent every month is going to improve my life. However if I can already pay my rent, having more money won’t have any more practical utility for “removing” stress from my life.
Thus a basic idea:
Money is useful as a SUBTRACTIVE thing. If money can REMOVE stress from your life, money is useful.
But we shouldn’t get suckered into having MORE money will give us MORE happiness in life.
Living as an active activity
To “live” is an active action.
To LIVE MORE means to move more, make more, create more, converse more, travel more, etc.
To “live more” doesn’t mean to have “better” food, have a bigger house, etc.
Thus perhaps when we say that we want to “live more”, we want to ACT MORE, DO MORE, and achieve more?
Is there such thing as a ‘better’ life?
I think when most people want to “improve” their lives, or live a “better” life is the two things:
- Reduce stress
- Increase pleasure
However two questions I have:
- What if you reduce your stress literally to 0. Are you suddenly “happy”? Is this desirable?
- Is there an upper-limit to feelings of pleasure? And what is the practical benefit of pleasure?
Do you want a life with 0 stress?
Let us say that I gave you a pill, and suddenly you felt 0 pain or stress in your life. Would this be desirable?
Currently I have pretty much 0 stress in my life. But this doesn’t make me “happy”. In-fact, when I have 0 stress, this often leads to boredom— which I feel is actually a WORSE emotional mind-set than stress. And another thought: having more money will not be able to destroy your boredom.
To live a better life, have FEWER obligations
I actually think what we really want is to have FEWER obligations, or for us to have NO obligations which are against our own will/desire.
Having fewer obligations is desirable, because it means you have more free time (and a clearer mind) to pursue what you truly desire in life.
So perhaps if you want to live a “better” life, or to “improve” your life, don’t think about what things you want to “do” — think about what you DON’T WANT TO DO!
Which also means:
To be happier in life, start subtracting superfluous obligations from your life.
That might mean starting to say “no” to more obligations or requests, and also checking your email less often (email is always people asking you to do something for them, which usually has little to no utility for you).
In-fact, decreasing email from my life is probably the best thing I did to improve my life. Fewer obligations, fewer distractions, and fewer things that cloud my mind.
Why I like having an empty mind
For me, the best mind-state is an empty mind state. When I have an empty mind, then I can allow truly creative, interesting, and innovative ideas enter my mind.
Thus to perhaps improve your life, seek to SUBTRACT distractions from your mind, to REMOVE superfluous thoughts from your life.
I know for myself, I don’t want to waste any of my precious mind-space on petty people (and their petty life problems), superfluous business-related or money-related things, or having to manage things for the sake of managing them.
Conclusion: Living a better life is to subtract
My conclusion currently is this:
To live a better life means to REMOVE superfluous things from your life.
- Subtract superfluous obligations
- Subtract superfluous people
- Subtract superfluous desires (desiring to buy shit that won’t actually make a meaningful impact in your life)
- Subtract stress, and pettiness
- Subtracting distractions
So perhaps when we are thinking about living in consumerist modern society, don’t think:
Will buying this improve my life?
Start to think:
What superfluous bullshit can I subtract from my life in order to improve my life?
Less is better:
- Same But Different
- The Zen of Street Photography
- Zen Photography
- Walking Meditation in Street Photography
- How to Be a Zen Street Photographer
- The Less You Have, the More You Have
- Prune Excess
- Prune in Order to Grow
- Zen in the Art of Street Photography
- The 7 Aesthetics of Zen Art For Photographers
- 15 (More) Lessons Taoism Has Taught Me About Street Photography
- How to Find Tranquility in Your Photography
- How to Find Zen in Street Photography
- Why Less is More in Street Photography (and Life)
- Why You Should Shoot with One Camera and One Lens
- 5 Essentialist Tips in Street Photography
- 10 Principles of Good Street Photography
- Deep Focus
- Follow Your Intuition
- Less, But Better
- Seek Emptiness
- Wonderment & Awe