Dear Diary 

On the other side of fear: contentment vs. fulfillment

Happiness. Happiness never changes.

Oh wait, it does. There are many different takes on it. This one is the result of my thinking about fear, contentment, happiness, and eudaimonia.

Contentment is a negative notion: it's lack of disquiet, lack of trouble, lack of unrest. It's absence of pain.

Fulfillment is a positive notion: it's self-actualization, achievement, and growth. It's presence of flourishing.

I used to regard myself as a utilitarian, and think that happiness was the ultimate good. But over time, I came to realize that utilitarianism has one major, massive flaw. It's not the usual "kill a person to save the lives of 5 with harvested organs"-type shallow objection, because that one does have a sound utilitarian answer (the answer lies in the plane of the so-called rule utilitarianism). It's a rather different problem: from the POV of a utilitarian, a wretched existence lived in a drug-induced bliss is actually more desirable than the tumble and growth and achievement of a fulfilling life, because happiness is happiness is happiness, and neurochemistry is where happiness comes from.

I think that basically, utilitarianism, by obsessively focusing on the destination, misses the bigger picture, which is that not everything in life lies at the finish line. The process matters. How you run the race matters. We live in a broad context, and we as a species and as a culture conceptualize ourselves in a broader context than utilitarianism accounts for.

Happiness is a mental state. It's just neurochemistry. A drug-induced happiness is still happiness. An alternative concept to happiness is the ancient Greek concept of eudaimonia, best translated as "fulfillment" or "self-actualization", which was advocated by Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics. The Book of Life has a decent introductory write-up on it.

Eudaimonia is not a state; it's a process, it's an ongoing interaction between the self and the world, aimed at fulfilling the highest tiers of the Maslow hierarchy of needs.

So since about a year or two ago, my thinking has been shifting towards prioritizing eudaimonia rather than happiness. Along with this, I have actually been feeling happier and happier -- ironically, happiness came when I stopped focusing on happiness as a destination, and started focusing on the journey.

Then, at a recent vacation, I had somewhat of a transformative experience. I am agoraphobic, but I went paraplaning and hang-gliding. It was terrifying, but also exhilarating; and something very important came out of that. I didn't stop being afraid, but fear stopped controlling me. I was afraid, and I still got up, and jumped, and flew.

And it was liberating. I was free -- not free from fear, but free of the chains fear imposed. I broke through to the other side of fear. I am still afraid, but it doesn't control me now.

And since that shift, I realized that I have been happier than I have ever been before. Ever. In thinking about it, what I realized is that my breaking through the fear was the key. I used to live afraid to fail, and that fear was binding and consuming me, but no longer. I am still afraid to fail, to let my family down, but just like with flight, that fear no longer controls me. Now fear of course is useful, but it's a blunt axe rather than a discerning scalpel, and all too often fear is irrational, and bars us from doing out best.

My aspirations used to be essentially negative: contentment, lack of pain and suffering and failure. But that desire was born of fear, and so I was living my life in a defensive crouch, afraid to fail.

Once I broke through that fear, I realized that instead of living not to fail, I can live to succeed. Instead of seeking contentment, I can seek fulfillment, self-actualization, eudaimonia.

This is freedom.

I am free.

12:55:05 on 08/30/17 by danilche - Category: General

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