The news that nobody wants to hear
I was typing out an (entirely too long) Instagram caption last night to accompany a post about the Ideal Life theme of contentment, when I caught myself repeating the same thing I’ve been saying here about virtue, both about the virtues of courtesy and of peace:
Contentment is a choice.-the Philosopher Princess
This, on the heels of nearly a week full of me saying that peace is a choice. And before that, courtesy is a choice.
It’s easy to see how courtesy is a choice. Courtesy, as we defined it, is a series of small sacrifices, meaning that courtesy is something we do, like the Disney Scoop.
On the other hand, peace is a state of the heart. Contentment, likewise, is a state of the heart, something akin to an emotion. How is a state of the heart something that we can choose? Emotions are real, chemical processes in the brain over which we have little control. We can hack those chemical processes? What alchemy is this?
The big scoop
As with all things virtue and Ideal Life related, the secret to living a virtuous or an Ideal Life is to know what virtues we want to possess, and to have imagined the kind of person we are in our Ideal Life.
To haphazardly wish for peace or courtesy or contentment would be like trying to do a gigantic puzzle without the box cover to compare it to: overwhelming and disappointing.
Once we have imagined the kind of person we want to be remembered as, or, once we have completed pages and pages and pages of In my Ideal Life, I am a person who…statements, then we are able to make choices that get us closer to those ideals.
Peace, then, is something that we choose through daily practice: when faced with two similar options, one that does little to change the status quo but will not incur more stress, or one that is flashier and more glamorous and feels good, but will create infinitely more stress, we will choose according to our desire for inner peace.
Contentment, then, is something that we choose by gratefully making use of what we own. It is choosing to not acquire more stuff that we don’t need, by avoiding the places (brick and mortar as well as online!) where we find the greatest temptation, or by unfollowing the influencers who roil our covetousness.
You think that you don’t face choices like this every day? If that is true, then you are a better person than I.
The superhero’s life
I have a strange fascination with armchair quarterbacking the workout strategies for actors playing superheroes. What intrigues me is the mental aspect of the process: the goals are clear and the pay-off is literally getting to be a superhero.
The diet and exercise regime that actors endure in order to perform as superheroes is daunting. Because they prepare for a role over a condensed period of time and surrounded by professionals, the progress is swift and impressive. Nonetheless, preparing physically to play a superhero requires some amount of suffering: hunger, muscle aches…
When faced with the choice to have a lazy afternoon on the couch or go workout, they choose to workout. They choose to do the difficult things because when they do, they will be superheroes.
Likewise, if we want to live lives of virtue (not for virtue’s sake, mind you, but because the pursuit of virtue is happiness, dixit Aristotle), if we want to live our Ideal Life, which may or may not fall short of superhero status, we need to be willing to suffer a little bit.
Setting clear goals of what we want our lives to look like makes it so much easier when we are faced with choices. Expediency or peace? Immediate gratification or contentment? Punctuality or courtesy? (Ouch…that one might be a toss-up for me…)
This week, we are going to try to make the image on that puzzle box as clear as day so that each day, when you are faced with a choice, you can decide if that piece belongs in your puzzle or not.
How do you want to be remembered? How can you start living in such a way that people will actually remember you that way? In your Ideal Life, you are a person…who what?