Self-Development - the Journey Within and Without


A stone statue of Lao-zi, founder of Taoist philosophy. From wikimedia.

We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about.

— Einstein

As far as I know it was David Allen of GTD fame who proposed there are only two fundamental challenges in life:

  1. You don't know what you want.
  2. You know what you want, but don't know how to get it.

But perhaps we can simplify further, to the single challenge at the core of our lives: how to be happy. Of course, one must discern what happiness is first, to avoid foolish errors such as equating happiness with shopping. We now have usable (if not universal) descriptions of what happiness is, positive psychology having attempted to organize and condense the world's wisdom on the topic:

In short we can be happy in 3 ways, and they're potentially complementary:

  1. Pleasure: physical pleasures that most people are at least familiar with such as food, sex, and novelty. As Seligman points out, this kind of happiness is the most common, the most fleeting, and requires progressively larger "doses" to elicit the same subjective sense of happiness.
  2. Flow: complete engagement in an activity with a timeless quality; recently recognized and investigated by psychology. It arises when challenge and skill are roughly matched.
  3. Meaning: devoting yourself to what you believe is meaningful. I believe the main challenge here is courage and self-knowledge, as what is particularly meaningful to you is unlikely to be aligned with society's norms.

Now, in seeking and experiencing those 3 paths, we all face shared constraints:

  • Incomplete and imperfect knowledge, on all scales of space and time, including incomplete self-knowledge.
  • Finite time and energy, and thus arise choice and opportunity cost.

Given the challenge and the constraints, what strategies and tactics can we marshal? That's what I'll share here - I claim no great expertise, but I will note what I've used successfully, or at least observed to work.