Why philosophy for a better life? – Part IV

We believe that time is lineal. We see ourselves in our 80th birthday blowing the candles. We see ourselves in the future ignoring the only fact, the present. As memento mori reminded us in the first installment of this series, there will be one day that will be the last. Because of this, our subject for today is carpe diem.

“Forever is composed of nows.”

Emily Dickinson

Carpe Diem is translated from latin as seize the day. It is sometimes misunderstood as taking the liberty of doing whatever we want. The problem with this is that our liberty and our actions should lead us to a better life which for Aristotle was the foundation of ethics. Therefore, carpe diem is seizing the day for a better life for us.

Seizing the day starts with accepting that we will die someday and that this day is the only one we got. As in mindfulness, carpe diem is a beautiful reminder that this second, the next minute, the next hour or the next day is all we have. Given this, we can choose to seize our day or keep lamenting on how difficult our life can be. The choice is ours. What are we to choose?

As spoken in the second installment, amor fati is the answer. Is there any difference in choosing suffering over happiness? There are these beliefs that in a time of grief happiness or gratefulness are not an option. That when we are in grief we have to choose suffering or damage. The problem with this is that we forget the silver linings that life has. That we forget that we can choose.

To understand this concept I usually recommend the amazing book of Leo Tolstoi, The Death of Ivan Illych, which tells the story of Ivan, who is dying. In his process he criticizes how his wife ignores him because of his odor, how his kids avoid him and how he falls into a spiral for sadness. In the book he begins to understand what life is all about. His worries, his lack of faith, his postponement of happiness are questioned in his deathbed leading to the question: Why I postponed? Why I chose tomorrow over today?

Carpe diem is the invitation to avoid postponement. We can be procrastinators in our chores, in writing our columns and in our books such as Andrew Santella discusses in his book Soon, but not on life. The most important lesson is for us not to procrastinate on love, on happiness, on today. Life is fleeting, life is not eternal, therefore, we should center on living today.

A beautiful story wraps this thought. It is said that a King wanted to engrave in a small ring a phrase that would help him enjoy happiness and endure sadness. Everyone visited the king with different phrases but none satisfied him. Until one day, a man came and in a piece of paper, gave him a phrase. After reading the phrase he smiled. Time passed by and the King was happier. In times of grief, he was grateful. Everyone saw that phrase as a miracle, an elixir for a better life. When they asked the man what the phrase was, he said:

This too shall pass.

In sadness remember that this too shall pass. Meaning that suffering is not forever. In happiness remember that this too shall pass. Meaning that happiness is fleeting. Therefore, enjoy today. Breath. Admire your body, the one you have to day. You can choose to improve tomorrow, but for know let us be happy with what we are/have today. Kiss your children, as Epictetus reminds us, because one they things could change. Look for purpose in what you do, making everyday count. Just seize the day.

Let us remember today. Let us remember that this too shall pass. Let us remember that we can choose happiness or we can choose sadness. Let us remember that we can choose to live life every second or keep dreaming of a future that may never come. Close your eyes. Breath. Feel your chest rising and lowering. This is life, carpe diem.

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.”

Henry David Thoreau

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