Intuitively, it felt like happiness was the end goal of my life work. It is clear now that there are two equally important goals of my life work:

  1. To enrich meaning in my life.
  2. To develop emotional stability and flourishing.

To develop emotional stability, I need to work on my inner emotional life. To enrich meaning, I need to develop my intellectual prowess.

Emotional

One important purpose of my life work is to cultivate a particular state of mind. One of my tasks is to design a life that maximized mental stability and positive emotions. In this project, I must architecture behavior, information, environment, and thoughts to feel better, live better, and construct a better world. For someone, who was suicidal at least twice in his life, it should be expected that feeling good is a priority for me—to never want to leave the world again, to never have to feel lonely and sad and be out of control again.

Intellectual

The other half of my work is intellectual. Yes, I want a life that is mentally stable and can be filled with happiness and rich inner experiences. However, a prerequisite to that is that I train myself in intellectual work.

This could sound counterintuitive. After all, sages have always warned about the dangers of intellectualization—that it lessens compassion and causes suffering, which is anti-happiness (buddha avoided metaphysics). I can see their point. I don’t necessarily enjoy intellectual work sometimes, and people who are too caught up in intellectual work can become too self-righteous and hard on their beliefs and ideologies. But to completely reject intellectual work, I think is an extreme position, especially because of how fundamental truth and reason are in the pursuit of the good life.

Why?

“Feeling better” is a Mental state. Sometimes we arrive at this mental state through a single action or a short series of actions (Experiencing a desired emotion is the point of taking action). However, to continuously feel better, to sustain positive experiences, and give ourselves more chances of feeling better, we need to curate our environment (Enhance the experience of a mental state by modifying the environment). Curating one’s environment involves complicated projects that require massive amounts of information. This is the fact of life. To engage with this information, one needs to perform intellectual work. It is inevitable to use one’s intellectual skills to design an environment that not only makes positive emotions possible but sustains them as well.

One way to curate one’s environment is to construct one’s worldview or way of life. This is especially necessary for someone who realizes that we are not bestowed a ready-made purpose in life (there is no destiny; there is no single purpose everyone must follow).

If this is one’s position, then one has no choice but to DIY the creation of one’s purpose and the creation of one’s worldview. This can only be possible through the power of one’s mind—through reason. We can only act on something we understand.

There is another fundamental reason why I embrace the intellectual in my life. Well-being (or Ginhawa), the ultimate principle (if I am going to use one to direct my life) (Do I need an ultimate principle to serve as a life purpose?)

If feeling good is my ultimate goal, then that makes me a hedonist. But as the Experience machine shows, there are other motivations to aspire to other than happiness. Meaning and truth are things that don’t necessarily contribute to our general happiness, they are ends of their own, but both seem to have a big role to play in the good life. And their pursuit requires reason and intellectual work.

In conclusion, I seem to need both the ability to feel good and to create meaning, which involves activities that don’t necessarily make me feel good always.

References