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Life is Pursuit – And Nothing Else
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
| Declaration of Independence |
In life we are always moving in some direction. We are always moving in a certain direction, towards some goal. Or some dream, or personal quest we have defined for ourselves for one reason or another. Even when we are standing still, we are in constant motion. When we are not physically going somewhere, our mind starts to run wild. We start asking ourselves questions. We doubt whether we will get where we want to go. We wonder if we will ever find the things, people, careers we dream of. Sometimes we are confident, sure that we are successful and that we will get there, wherever that may be. Other times we are tired, worn out and don’t know if we will ever make it to the finish line. We pursue the things we love, hate, buy, sell, need, desire. We pursue the truth. We pursue satisfaction, peace, productivity, fulfillment.
We are in constant pursuit. But each of us defines it differently. Some of us try to help others. Some of us pursue financial success. Some of us pursue love, find it, and nurture it. Some of us crave titles, accolades and attention. Some of us look for career opportunities, while others look for travel opportunities. Most of us pursue all of these at once. The United States Declaration of Independence refers to it as the pursuit of happiness (properly ambiguous). This idea of the chase permeates every aspect of our lives. This is one of the fundamental reasons why autocratic or semi-absolute regimes fail and free democracies succeed. Autocracies stifle growth, both social and economic, because they suppress our natural instincts to pursue. That’s what we were born to do.
A chef looks for the best ingredients. An artist frets over a perfect design. A philosopher ponders the most challenging questions. Scientists try to answer them. A player wants to dominate the competition, again and again. An alpinist travels to the world’s climbing peaks in the hope that one day he will have the chance to conquer Everest. A homemaker has to provide for her family. The guy sitting next to you on the bus is looking for the love of his life. We all want something, and most of us want many things at once. For our purposes here, we’ll call this the Pursuit Principle.
So how do we get what we want?
How can we fulfill the poetic desires that burn deep in our souls? There are numerous theories. Countless books discuss the Pursuit Principle and how to maximize its potential. With the rise of weblogs, the availability of content has risen to unprecedented heights. Most successful blogs revolve around the principle of pursuit. They all have something to offer us. They are about how to do it or how to achieve it. Ten steps to increase productivity. Twenty steps to a more fit, healthy and nutritious lifestyle. They try to provide an easy way to … follow up.
A theory from Leo Babuta, a blogger I greatly respect, is simple: learn to want less. And in his blogs, mnmlist.com and ZenHabits, he offers tips, suggestions and strategies on how to make the old adage “less is more” a reality in our own lives. He strongly believes that by conditioning our mind and body to need/want less, we will spend less time chasing what we think we are after and enjoy what we have and eventually give some of it away. Well (once you realize you don’t even need them).
Another theory, described in books like The Secret and Think and Grow Rich, emphasizes the opposite side of the equation. The point here is that we are entitled to all the things we can desire and indeed we are blessed by the universe, be it in the realm of money, love, success and everything else. They suggest that we want as much as we want, and more, and then we focus all our attention, focus and effort to get it. By consistently practicing visualization techniques, we will somehow, and not exactly define how, begin to attract our desires. Proponents of this school of thought refer to this as the Law of Attraction.
Tal Ben-Shahar, in his book, The Pursuit of Perfect, talks about the pursuit of a perfect life, not just a happy one. Not only do we want to be happy, we pursue perfection. He distinguishes between positive (optimal) and negative perfectionism. Ben-Shahar notes that “the perfectionist rejects failure, painful emotions, success, and reality. He limits himself by worrying about failure, causing anxiety and procrastination. The optimist, however, accepts failure, painful emotions, success, and reality; he lives. The fullness of human experience.” Scope. Even if the Optimist fails, he accepts the reality of the situation and moves on.” (so keep following)
No matter which of these you subscribe to, and I think each has its merits, one thing you should always keep in mind. Life is discovery, and nothing else. So tread carefully. And be a Ben-Shahar optimist. We are naked without the things we are after, even if the things we are after are few. Once you understand this, you’ll be in a better position to enjoy the ride.
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