4 Life Hacks from Ancient Philosophy

What happens when science validates ancient philosophic ideas on how to be happy.

Humanists aren’t picky about where we get our knowledge from. As long as it works, and is scientifically verified to work, we use it.  Turns out that the Stoics, yes, those folks who used to deny themselves pleasure, were on to something.  Here is a great article about 4 life hacks from the Stoics - http://www.bakadesuyo.com/2014/01/ancient-philosophers/ - and the best part of this article is that there are links to the scientific studies that show these particular life hacks of the stoics work in reality.

For those of you who hate linking – here they are:

1) Imagine all the bad things that might happen. Then when they don’t, feel relief and gratitude, and yes, a bit of happiness. Take that obnoxiously irrational positive thinkers.

2) Act as if.  Turns out that even if you aren’t feeling it, if you act as if you are, you really will trick your body into believing and feeling like you are. So go ahead and fake your emotions until you make it. And no – that isn't a license of unrestrained and irrational exuberance. Reread Hack 1 to ensure balance.

3) Deny yourself now and again. Turns out, if you not only don’t indulge, but you actively deny, then when you allow yourself to do something again, it really is that much better.

4) Forgive yourself for not being perfect. As I tell all my students. No one is a perfect critical thinker and no one is totally compassionate 100% of the time. It’s ok. Just keep trying and keep practicing. These are called philosophic practice for a reason!

So, what is your favorite life hack from ancient philosophy? (Note – you do not need to limit yourself to the stoics.)

Love and Loneliness

Why looking out for each other matters.

The blog Momastery had a wonderful article about a teacher who had a great way of identifying kids who were lonely and needed some additional help making friends.  (See: http://momastery.com/blog/2014/01/30/share-schools/)

I liked the idea behind it so I wanted to share it here.  But mostly, I wanted to make the point that everyone needs help. Everyone feels lonely. Very few of us are born with the innate ability to make friends. We are all insecure and all struggle to a certain extent.

We are all lonely and we all want to be loved.  This is why we need to look out for one another.  The problem with feeling lonely and unloved is that we withdraw into ourselves and we fail to see all the other lonely people around us. We think we are the only ones.  We aren’t.

When we make a point to look out to find the lonely people, we can connect ourselves with them and feel less alone. This is why compassion is so powerful and why it’s so important to the Humanist practice.

Don’t assume everyone else is ok. They aren’t. They need a helping hand and a little bit of love, just like you do. So look out for each other. Care about each other and try to make the world a little less lonely.


Girlfriends are humans too

Why guys who want girlfriends need to stop being so obnoxious about it.

The “friend zone” has been the topic of several online articles recently – see Jezebel’s article: http://jezebel.com/dudes-stop-putting-women-in-the-girlfriendzone-1508177054 and Chuck Wendig’s seriously wonderful article here: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/02/26/that-friend-zone-bullshit/

Now, I’ve counseled many a guy in the “friend” zone about what they are doing wrong. They rarely get it. That’s because they are so busy considering their needs, they forget the women they are interested in are human too.

To understand this, you have to realize, a woman is first and foremost a human. If you have no interest in her as human, then you probably aren’t going to get her to be your girlfriend.  This means 3 things. 

  1. 1)       So stop pretending your intentions towards her are solely about friendship if they aren’t. If you are lying to her about your intentions, she’s going to be pissed you were lying to her about your intentions. And when she finds out, you aren’t likely to get her to be romantic with you, because, shock of all shockers, women do consider people as friends just because.  Your gender doesn’t dictate whether we can be friends or not. Your friendship determines whether we can be friends or not. And yes, platonic friendships are totally possible and usually pretty awesome.  So, if you act as if you are only interested in a platonic friends, but you really aren’t, you are shooting yourself in the foot.
  2.  2)      Likewise, if you are only interested in her sexually, you probably aren’t going to get a good quality woman to be your friend, because, in general, women who are interested in sex for the sake of sex aren’t interested in relationships. Seriously, they aren’t. So don’t assume if you are just animal magnet that if you can get a woman to have sex with you she will want to be in a relationship with you. That doesn’t work either. 
  3.  3)      If you are interested in romance, you have to let us know. Not obnoxiously so, but you do have to let us know.  I went out with a guy once who I was convinced had to be gay. He was nice and wonderful and we are still friends, but he showed no romantic interest in me at all. Imagine my surprise to find out he was hetero and interested in me. Could have fooled me. He blew his chance with me because I wrote him off as not a potential romantic partner.  I appreciate that he wanted to be friends before romantic partners, but if you are interested in romance, you have to let the girl know you are interested in her both as a friend and as a girl. Not just as a friend and not just as a girl – but both!  At the same time! 

The key to this whole thing is to understand that the term is girlfriend. Both girl and friend.  The same goes for boyfriends – both boy and friend.  If it’s just friend, as in we are both human and there is little to no sexual interest, you don’t need the gender qualifier. So treat us as humans. Be honest with us about your intentions and be both a friend and a boy who is interested in us romantically. That will give you the best shot at success. And if you are worried about being shot down, take heart. The sooner you learn whether your interest is reciprocated or not, the sooner you can stop investing time in a losing proposition. But don’t worry, you can still be friends. 

Human Exceptionalism

Humanists are not human exceptionalists.  Don’t get me wrong. We like being human, but we are also aware that as a species, we aren't necessarily that wonderfully adapted to life. After all, we have only been around a few hundred thousand years and tardigrades have survived several mass extinctions in their current form. We humans, on the other hand, seem intent on causing our own mass extinction.

Which is why claims that humanists are human exceptionalists is so bizarre.  All we are saying, when we say we are humanists, is that given the fact I am a human, I’m going to try and be a good human, whatever being good means in any given situation.

I think what happens is that people who grew up with a religious worldview, which consider humans the pinnacle of creation, when they reject that worldview for very good reasons, are wary of anything that seems to hint at a similarly stupid view of humanity. So when these people hear about humanism, they assume it means that we consider humans the pinnacle of creation and they recoil from that thought – for good reason, it’s a stupid and scientifically inaccurate viewpoint. What they fail to do is ask any actual humanists if we think that way, they just assume we do, because the same religious leaders who told them that humans are special, also told them that Humanists are evil for thinking that humans are special. For the record, we don’t think humans are all that special. We have a scientific mindset and that puts us squarely in the realm of us humans being just another species.

So, if you like our Humanist ethics, but you are concerned that humanists are egocentric assholes who don’t understand science and have some weird ideas about human superiority, please consider that that idea, may actually be baggage from your religious upbringing and you may be projecting that onto us. Because it’s not actually reflective of how actual Humanists think.

For more on this please read James Croft’s lovely essay on Why Humanists are not Human Exceptionalists - http://www.patheos.com/blogs/templeofthefuture/2014/01/humanists-are-not-human-exceptionalists/



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