Last week a podcast host asked me about the books that have impacted my life the most. As usual, I mentioned Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, because it crystalized my revelation that in order to become happy, you must live by a congruent philosophy.
It’s way too easy to fall into a non-philosophical, slapdash approach to life, simply reacting to the various stimuli around you. You know you’re supposed to grow up, get a job, move out of the house, find a mate, produce offspring, pay your taxes, and pick up the dry cleaning. Each action you take along the way (having kids, going to college, etc.) produces another set of additional expected actions you should follow.
So many people are unhappy because they simply fell into maintaining conformity and the habitual thinking it requires. They never took time for the introspection which would have revealed what their own philosophy of a life well lived would mean to them.
We’re now at the seventh and final part of our series on the key philosophies that determine your worldview and what that means for you. In case you’re just jumping in, here’s the formula I’m positing:
Every day you believe you’re making decisions that affect your prosperity. But if you’re like most people, you’re not making most of these decisions mindfully. Because what you decide on these situational decisions has already been predetermined by the philosophies you developed earlier in these seven areas. They are:
Until you mindfully think about what a life well lived looks like, you’ll forever be at the mercy of outside stimuli: The latest incendiary tweet, a snub in the Oscar nominations, who unfriended you on Facebook, or the availability of pumpkin spice latte.
It’s really not that important to define your philosophy in a catchy mission or vision statement. Your philosophy is best expressed and demonstrated by your day-to-day actions – how you live your life.
It all begins with your fundamental core values. The things that are the most important to you, as this drives the actions you take every day. And these spring forth from your central purpose in life.
I spent the first 30 years of my life sick, poor, and ignorant. I ultimately prevailed in rising above that and believe everyone can. To do that, however, may take having a dramatic shift in your mindset, beliefs and philosophy on life...
It may mean developing a life purpose for the first time or replacing the one you have right now. And that could mean you have to dramatically alter the view you have of yourself, and your role in the world. People who spend their existence worrying solely about the needs of others and not themselves are not noble, benevolent, and spiritual. They are crazy. And because they don’t look after their own needs first, they really can’t help others in a healthy way. They can console them, participate in their drama, or enable their co-dependence, but they can’t offer them real, meaningful help. Or to repeat an oft-quoted line from a character in The Fountainhead, “To say ‘I love you,’ one must first know how to say the word ‘I.’”
Your highest moral purpose must be your own happiness.
If that statement threatens you, please take a deeper look into that feeling. Because this is the only healthy, sane way to live. And the only way that ensures the survival of the species, and the wellbeing of the most people. In fact, it is the only honorable way to conduct any relationship.
You must not sacrifice your happiness for others because that is depravity, moral corruption, and a sure sign of mental illness. Likewise, for the opposite situation. You shouldn’t ask others to sacrifice for you, as corrupting the morals of others is no less evil than corrupting your own.
In the book Atlas Shrugged, one of Ayn Rand’s main characters is asked, “What is the most depraved kind of human being?” His answer would likely surprise most people, since he doesn’t suggest a murderer, or rapist, or other sex offender. His answer is, “The man without a purpose.”
When asked about why she suggested this as opposed to the other possibilities, Ayn replied, “Because that aspect of their character lies at the root of and causes all the evils which you mentioned in your question. Sadism, dictatorship, or any form of evil, is the consequence of a man’s evasion of reality. A consequence of his failure to think. The man without a purpose is a man who drifts at the mercy of random feelings or unidentified urges and is capable of any evil, because he is totally out of control of his own life. In order to have control of your life, you have to have a purpose – a productive purpose.”
When you have your own happiness as your highest moral purpose, you have a productive – and moral – reason to exist. And here’s the shocking thing for many people...
When they realize that if everyone did this, the world would be a much better place. Instead of dysfunction, decadence, and codependence, we would have healthy, functional, value-for-value relationships. No one would be asking others to sacrifice yourself for him or her, and you would behave the same way. That is how healthy relationships are done.
A sane person accepts him or herself and is comfortable in their own skin and will take care to ensure their own needs are met. They understand that if they were to sacrifice themselves for others, they would diminish and degrade themselves, and ultimately be of use to no one. This leads us to the next question that arises for many. Namely, what about love and relationships?
Love is an expression of your self-esteem and your deepest values. You fall in love with someone who shares these values. And if you truly do love someone, it means that they bring happiness to your life. Or in other words, you love them for purely selfish and personal reasons. Because if you weren’t in love for this reason, it wouldn’t make sense. If you were in love for selfless reason, it would mean that you would get no joy or personal pleasure and are there simply for self-sacrificial pity for that person. That would not be love but dysfunction. Falling in love with them is the highest compliment and honor you can ever pay another human being – that you love them for the selfish reason of the happiness and joy they bring you.
This should not be confused with Hedonism...
The philosophy of hedonism holds that only what is pleasant or has pleasant consequences is intrinsically good. The psychology of hedonism holds that all behavior is motivated by the desire for pleasure and the avoidance of pain. This would seem to suggest that pleasure is a standard for morality. Which is most certainly not the case...
You would be basing your morality on whims, urges, or whatever desires possessed you at the moment. This is definitely immoral. Good must be defined by a rational standard of value. Pleasure is not a “first cause,” but rather a consequence. The consequence of actions you take because you have made a rational value judgment.
Let’s continue with this logical exploration of this philosophy to live life by. At this stage you may be wondering about serving others, and giving to charity.
There is a common belief that you have a moral obligation to help those less fortunate than you. Nothing could be further than the truth. If you live your life by the philosophy we're discussing, you very well may help others and contribute to charity. Personally, the number one expense on my tax return for many years has been charity and it will remain so forever. I support the opera, symphony, wildlife funds, youth sports, disease prevention, homeless shelters, runaway shelters, and scholarships. I have bought business items and computers for aspiring speakers, outfits for upcoming singers, paid for martial arts training for foster kids, funded academic scholarships, and other situations like these that aren't considered charitable tax exemptions. That doesn't matter to me. The formula I use to decide where to give is:
That alone is what determines how and where I circulate my prosperity. I feel no obligation to do so and give only for the selfish joy it provides me. Take the concept even farther...
You could even step in the way of a bullet that was headed for someone you love if their value to you were so great, you would not care to live without them. This wouldn’t be self-sacrifice but a case of you protecting something you value dearly.
And that is where this all leads to. You know exactly what brings value to you, and furthers your purpose, which is a life of happiness. It means accepting that you are supposed to be happy and working towards that end, rejecting the guilt rackets that are practiced on you.
As you look around the world today, it is easy to view man as a helpless, subservient, robot. Most people are just worker drones in the collective, living their sick, broke and ignorant lives. We are surrounded by mediocrity, depravity, and fear. But if you look a little deeper, you see something else...
You can see Elon Musk planning missions to Mars, Operation Warp Speed, and the Golden Gate Bridge. You can experience a Puccini opera, read a Hemingway book, or enjoy a Cirque du Soleil performance. You can marvel at the Great Pyramids, the tenacity of Greta Thunberg, or the courage of a single mother homeschooling her kids during a pandemic.
You start to see the enormity of the human spirit, and the greatness we are capable of. You realize that humankind is not inherently weak and helpless; we just become that way when we live without a purpose. And you recognize that you yourself can do great things and do them for the right reasons. You can be bold, daring, and imaginative, and leave this world a better place because you lived a life of purpose – a life worth living.