For some months I have been listening to podcasts from Partially Examined Life, “a philosophy podcast by some guys, who at one point set on doing philosophy for a living, but then thought better of it”, as Mark Linsenmayer, one of the podcasters puts it.
In the podcasts the now group of four men discusses a pre-defined topic and texts they have read in preparation. During the podcast that lasts between one and two hours the men analyze the ideas and thoughts of the respective philosopher and philosophy and its connections to other philosophical directions. The podcasts assume no existing knowledge on philosophy, so they are a great way to get into touch with some of the well-known philosophers and their thinking, like Bentham with his utilitarianism or Kant and his categorical imperative, not to mention the ideas of Nietzsche.
The discussions of the four podcasters are entertaining and for the most part the audio quality is decent. I would recommend listening to the recordings while you are taking a long walk, or otherwise can concentrate on listening while still not just sitting in a chair or lying on your sofa.
Having listened to the podcasts, I have gained some idea on multiple philosophical concepts and the reasoning and assumptions that underlie them. I wouldn’t be surprised to find myself soon reading some of the texts recommended as pre-reading for the podcasts.
Quite recently two persons, both relatively close to me, died. Both were already elderly and had a long life behind them. Having known them and their worldview, I suspect that both of them would have described their life as good and fulfilling, all the way to the end. Obviously these deaths made me think, once again, how I would want to live my life and how I should live it.
Having thought about life in general and my own in particular on many occasions, I have read and listened to many thinkers and their views on how one should live. In this short post, I do not intend to dive into the depths of morals or build my own thinking on any particular philosophy, but give a few practical thoughts and pieces of advice on living a good life, whatever that might be.
An often-heard piece of advice from elderly people is to live so that you will have no or few regrets when lying on your deathbed. A more developed version of this is to avoid having regrets of not doing or trying something; trying and failing seems to be better than the insecurity of potential success without ever having tried.
Further pieces of advice are to embrace the moment and enjoy what you have. Trying to improve yourself and your life is required to avoid stagnation and the potential regret of not having done things, but one should also meet failure with acceptance and a calm mind. Do not make your happiness conditional on achieving certain goals, but set yourself on a path and try to reach those goals. Not reaching them does not make you any worse off, but not having even tried leads to regret, to a feeling of not having lived. Being active, looking for what interests you and trying things out are ingredients of a good life. Also, helping others to and taking part in their lives is often mentioned as an important part of a good life.
Last Saturday, as I was at my yoga lesson, my eyes caught a headline on some yoga magazine: “Living the best years of my life”. I didn’t read the article, but it was an interview with a singer. What I realized was that the sentence can be interpreted in two ways, one being counter-productive for living a good life, the other one helping us to have one.
The first, obvious, interpretation is that I am living the best time of my life right now. It might get better, but it was never this good. It also might not become any better, or it might even get worse. This kind of mentality easily leads us either longing for the past, the better days that shall be no more, or to anticipate the future that shall be so much better than the present. In both cases, we might completely fail to appreciate and value that what we have right here and right now. And since we in effect live only in the present, we might never feel living a good life.
However, taking the other interpretation helps us value the present, while still retaining the possibility of an even better future and also allowing us to return in our minds to past events when we felt living a good life. If we interpret the sentence “Living the best years of my life” as a process, we are constantly living the best years of our life. In this way we seize the moment, can feel grateful for it and live the best years, while still being able to look back in to the past and forward in to the future and also there see the best years of our life. Living in this way we can be happy, if not every day, at least much more often than if we merely zoomed through our lives without ever stopping, looking around, listening, feeling, wondering, filling all our senses, living the good life right now with our closest ones. We can embrace the moments flowing past us, throw ourselves into them and live a good life all the way until, at the dusk of our last day, we might finally be certain of it.