Why philosophy for a better life? – Part I

I began my interest in philosophy when I was about 10 years old. I understand that this is a strange age to engage in philosophy, but I was surrounded by the knowledge of someone very close to me who talked about the good life. Since then, I started including in my reading list books about Nietzche, Aristotle, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca and others to expand my knowledge in philosophy.

After graduating from high school I wanted to study philosophy, but it was difficult to me to see myself working in a philosophy department. Therefore, I started to study economics which in part is based in the concepts of philosophy and the impact of ideas in society. Here I learned about Adam Smith and his approach on moral theory, Bertrand Russel and freedom, Stuart Mill, Hayek, Keynes, Mises, Robbins and many more, that led me to see the world in a different view.

Even though economics had philosophy in it, I still wondered how to help me and others through philosophy, an answer that took 15 years. It was only after an existencial crisis, that I remembered all the books by the stoics, by the greeks, the introductions to this subjects by Pierre Hadot and Sellars. I was given the chance to apply it to my crisis and become a better individual.

This experience is the reason why I base all my coaching in philosophy. Philosophy is not about the questions regarding why we are here, or what should we do with our lives. Philosophy is about asking ourselves questions in order to change our perspectives. Philosophy is not about changing others, it is about become a better version of ourselves. When Socrates asked questions to others about intelligence, they were not meant to confront the ego of each individual, it was meant to reflect on our own knowledge and existence.

I do agree that a life that does not consider a meditation on our own existence is not a life lived. The reason for this, is that we are here for a short time, 120 years at the most, in a planet that exists far more than that. He are part of this planet for this time, if lucky, and there are generations behind us and there will be generations in front of us. So why reflect on our lives?

The answer for this is based on three latin words that changed my life. Today I will write about the first one.

Memento Mori

Memento mori has many translations, but my favorite is remember that you are going to die. This should not be somber or be an invitation to sadness. This should be a reminder of the greatest truth that we will encounter in lives (some say taxes should also be added but depends on the country), that death is a part of living as living is a part of death. The moment we begin to live is the moment we begin to die, they are faces of the same coin. We try to avoid this, not thinking about death because we fear, but at Nietzche discussed, it is impossible to fear what we cannot know.

Death is a reminder that everyday that we wake up we have an opportunity to live. This means that when we wake up, we have the next minute, and then the next minute and so on. Life is not a given, we can assume that we will see our kids grow old, we can asume that we will retire, we can asume that we will be there when our grandchildren visit our house. The reality is that we do not know, we hope for this but we can leave at any time.

So how does memento mori helps us to be happier? If you have meditated, read buddism, being in a yoga class or had a coaching session, there is something that you may have seen, a memento (reminder) that we only have the now. Memento mori is the best way to remember that yesterday is gone and that the future will be with us in a few minutes. But for a moment, we only have today, now, this instance, this breath. Then, we are given a second breath and so on.

When a problem arrives think to yourself: if I die today, does this really matter? Many times you will find that the answer is no, it doesn’t matter. If you are worried about what will happen the next week, month or year, you can contrast it to today. Your future is created today. Memento mori helps us remember that.

Does this mean we should avoid planning? Not at all. Planning is based on hope, on faith, on believing that we will have many days in the future. The most important aspect of planning is to create the plan and then live. Sometimes we are focused on where our plan is heading, paying the bills next month, not getting sick and so many scenarios that we often forget that today is the only thing we have.

Does this mean that we should live without restrain? No, because living today leads to an understanding that we are creating our future minute by minute. This means that we should be living today in the way you want our future to be. This is why philosophy discussed about the good life and why ethics always comes back to this argument.

Although we will not discuss the good life in this article, the summary is that you should live in alignment with nature for the stoics or with the values that represent you for other philosophical traditions. For many of us the good life is getting to bed and being able to sleep. For others it is being able to drink coffee in solitude because they are making decisions that bring them peace. For many religions, the good life can be summed in peace. For Marcus Aurelius it was to act as a good individual.

For this reason, mement mori is not a somber reminder. It is an opportunity to rearrange our perspectives on things. It allows us to remember that this shall pass and that as Seneca said, we suffer more in imagination than in reality.

To end this article, I would advice for you to think about today. What makes you happy today? What have you postponed that you can do today? What haven´t you lived that you can live today?

Sincerely,

Mauricio

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