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April 2015

On Closure

TheExaminedLifeIn The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves, psychoanalyst Stephen Grosz elegantly illuminates our struggles with love, change and loss through a series of moving anecdotes about some of the patients he's seen during his career.

In "On Closure" Grosz argues that the common belief in "five stages of grief" - denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance - is wrong.

"In the 1960s [Elisabeth] Kübler-Ross identified five psychological stages in the experience of terminally ill patients, the last of which is acceptance. About twenty-five years ago, Kübler-Ross and many bereavement counsellors began to use these same five stages to describe the experiences of both the dying and the grieving. I’ve long thought that Kübler-Ross was wrong."

He explains why:

"The ‘psychological stages’ of dying and grieving are wholly different. For the person who dies there is an end, but this is not so for the person who grieves. The person who mourns goes on living and for as long as he lives there is always the possibility of feeling grief."

While acknowledging that the initial shock and fear associated with a loss do decrease with time, Grosz argues that the idea that we can do something to achieve permanent closure is a fantasy.

"Holidays and anniversaries are notoriously difficult. Grief can ebb and then, without warning, resurge...

My experience is that closure is an extraordinarily compelling fantasy of mourning. It is the fiction that we can love, lose, suffer and then do something to permanently end our sorrow. We want to believe we can reach closure because grief can surprise and disorder us – even years after our loss."

This fantasy can have serious consequences for those who fall victim to it.

"They suffer more because they both expect to make progress, to move through certain stages of grief. And when they don’t, they feel that they are doing something wrong, or, more precisely, that there is something wrong with them. They suffer twice – first from grief and then from a tyranny of shoulds: ‘I should have pulled myself out of this,’ ‘I shouldn’t be so angry,’ ‘I should have moved on by now,’ and so forth. There is little room here for emotional exploration or understanding. This way of being leads to self-loathing, despair, depression."

The Examined Life is fascinating in its entirety.


Marcus Aurelius on Impermanence

Meditations is saturated with Marcus Aurelius' thoughts on change, impermanence and death.

In a passage that finds an echo in Bhante Gunaratana's warning about inattention, Aurelius reminds us that change is already happening:

“Bear in mind that everything that exists is already fraying at the edges, and in transition, subject to fragmentation and to rot.” (10.18)

The present moment is all we have...

"Forget everything else. Keep hold of this alone and remember it: Each of us lives only now, this brief instant. The rest has been lived already, or is impossible to see." (3.10)

...and all we can lose:

"The longest-lived and those who will die soonest lose the same thing. The present is all that they can give up, since that is all you have, and what you do not have, you cannot lose." (2.14)

Don’t waste time:

“Stop whatever you’re doing for a moment and ask yourself: Am I afraid of death because I won’t be able to do this anymore?” (10.29)

We may not even be able to enjoy our whole life:

"We need to hurry. Not just because we move daily closer to death but also because our understanding— our grasp of the world— may be gone before we get there." (3.1)

There will be a last time for everything we do, and it may come sooner than we think:

“As you kiss your son good night, says Epictetus, whisper to yourself, “He may be dead in the morning.”” (11.34)

Tomorrow our wife may leave us, we may be diagnosed with a fatal illness, we may lose our job. We may have already done something for the last time and not yet know it.

Not to hope that we will be remembered when we die. Anyone who might remember us will soon be dead too.

“So many who were remembered already forgotten, and those who remembered them long gone.” (7.6)

See also:

 


Marcus Aurelius on Acceptance

One of the themes of Meditations is our need to accept the things that are outside our control.

To play the hand we’ve been dealt:

“The spot where a person decides to station himself, or wherever his commanding officer stations him— well, I think that’s where he ought to take his stand and face the enemy, and not worry about being killed, or about anything but doing his duty.” (7.45)

To treat misfortune as an opportunity for growth:

"Just as you overhear people saying that “the doctor prescribed such-and-such for him” (like riding, or cold baths, or walking barefoot …), say this: “Nature prescribed illness for him.” Or blindness. Or the loss of a limb. Or whatever. There “prescribed” means something like “ordered, so as to further his recovery.” And so too here. What happens to each of us is ordered. It furthers our destiny." (4.8)

To not worry about what might not happen:

“Don’t let your imagination be crushed by life as a whole. Don’t try to picture everything bad that could possibly happen. Stick with the situation at hand, and ask, “Why is this so unbearable? Why can’t I endure it?” You’ll be embarrassed to answer.” (8.36)

To not be surprised when people act according to their nature:

“To expect a bad person not to harm others is like expecting fig trees not to secrete juice, babies not to cry, horses not to neigh— the inevitable not to happen. What else could they do— with that sort of character? If you’re still angry, then get to work on that.” (12.16)

To let go:

“Not “some way to sleep with her”— but a way to stop wanting to.
Not “some way to get rid of him”— but a way to stop trying.
Not “some way to save my child”— but a way to lose your fear.” (9.40)

See also:


Marcus Aurelius on Action

In Meditations, Marcus Aurelius writes about the need to take responsibility for the things in our control.

“Our own worth is measured by what we devote our energy to.” (7.3)

To tie our well-being to our actions alone:

“Ambition means tying your well-being to what other people say or do. Self-indulgence means tying it to the things that happen to you. Sanity means tying it to your own actions.” (6.51)

To choose our actions based on what’s right, not on what other people think:

"The tranquillity that comes when you stop caring what they say. Or think, or do. Only what you do. (Is this fair? Is this the right thing to do?)" (4.18)

To not respond to hate in kind:

“Someone despises me. That’s their problem. Mine: not to do or say anything despicable. Someone hates me. Their problem. Mine: to be patient and cheerful with everyone, including them. Ready to show them their mistake. Not spitefully, or to show off my own self-control, but in an honest, upright way.” (11.13)

To feel compassion for those who hurt us...

“When people injure you, ask yourself what good or harm they thought would come of it. If you understand that, you’ll feel sympathy rather than outrage or anger. Your sense of good and evil may be the same as theirs, or near it, in which case you have to excuse them. Or your sense of good and evil may differ from theirs. In which case they’re misguided and deserve your compassion. Is that so hard?” (7.26)

...and to act kindly towards them:

“That kindness is invincible, provided it’s sincere— not ironic or an act. What can even the most vicious person do if you keep treating him with kindness and gently set him straight— if you get the chance— correcting him cheerfully at the exact moment that he’s trying to do you harm. “No, no, my friend. That isn’t what we’re here for. It isn’t me who’s harmed by that. It’s you.” And show him, gently and without pointing fingers, that it’s so. That bees don’t behave like this— or any other animals with a sense of community. Don’t do it sardonically or meanly, but affectionately— with no hatred in your heart. And not ex cathedra or to impress third parties, but speaking directly. Even if there are other people around.” (11.18)

To use our problems as fuel:

“Just as nature takes every obstacle, every impediment, and works around it— turns it to its purposes, incorporates it into itself— so, too, a rational being can turn each setback into raw material and use it to achieve its goal.” (8.35)

To eliminate what’s unnecessary:

"Most of what we say and do is not essential. If you can eliminate it, you’ll have more time, and more tranquillity. Ask yourself at every moment, “Is this necessary?” But we need to eliminate unnecessary assumptions as well. To eliminate the unnecessary actions that follow." (4.24)

To act selflessly:

"Some people, when they do someone a favor, are always looking for a chance to call it in. And some aren’t, but they’re still aware of it— still regard it as a debt. But others don’t even do that. They’re like a vine that produces grapes without looking for anything in return." (5.6)

To not be angry:

“How much more damage anger and grief do than the things that cause them.” (11.18)

And as for revenge…

"The best revenge is not to be like that." (6.6)

See also:


Marcus Aurelius on Perception

Writing in Meditations, Marcus Aurelius reminds himself that it's not external events that cause us difficulties, but the interpretation we choose to place on them.

"Choose not to be harmed— and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed— and you haven’t been... It can ruin your life only if it ruins your character." (4.7 and 4.8)

We have our emotions, and we have our thoughts about them. We can't control the former but we can control the latter, and we need to stop them fusing with each other

"The mind is the ruler of the soul. It should remain unstirred by agitations of the flesh— gentle and violent ones alike. Not mingling with them, but fencing itself off and keeping those feelings in their place. When they make their way into your thoughts, through the sympathetic link between mind and body, don’t try to resist the sensation. The sensation is natural. But don’t let the mind start in with judgements, calling it “good” or “bad.”" (5.26)

The only things we should label "good" or "bad" are the things in our control: our own actions.

“You take things you don’t control and define them as “good” or “bad.” And so of course when the “bad” things happen, or the “good” ones don’t, you blame the gods and feel hatred for the people responsible— or those you decide to make responsible. Much of our bad behavior stems from trying to apply those criteria. If we limited “good” and “bad” to our own actions, we’d have no call to challenge God, or to treat other people as enemies.” (6.41)

To be grateful for what we have without allowing ourselves to become dependent on those things:

“Treat what you don’t have as nonexistent. Look at what you have, the things you value most, and think of how much you’d crave them if you didn’t have them. But be careful. Don’t feel such satisfaction that you start to overvalue them— that it would upset you to lose them.” (7.27)

To trust ourselves:

“It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.” (12.4)

To be self-reliant:

"Poor: (adj.) requiring others; not having the necessities of life in one’s own possession." (4.29)

To not worry about praise...

"Beautiful things of any kind are beautiful in themselves and sufficient to themselves. Praise is extraneous. The object of praise remains what it was— no better and no worse.... Is an emerald suddenly flawed if no one admires it?" (4.20)

...or our reputation:

"Or is it your reputation that’s bothering you? But look at how soon we’re all forgotten. The abyss of endless time that swallows it all. The emptiness of all those applauding hands. The people who praise us— how capricious they are, how arbitrary. And the tiny region in which it all takes place. The whole earth a point in space— and most of it uninhabited." (4.3)

To recognise that we are not responsible for the behaviour of others:

"So other people hurt me? That’s their problem. Their character and actions are not mine." (5.25) 

To not extrapolate from first impressions:

“Nothing but what you get from first impressions. That someone has insulted you, for instance. That— but not that it’s done you any harm. The fact that my son is sick— that I can see. But “that he might die of it,” no. Stick with first impressions. Don’t extrapolate. And nothing can happen to you.” (8.49)

To see no more than is actually there:

“Like seeing roasted meat and other dishes in front of you and suddenly realizing: This is a dead fish. A dead bird. A dead pig. Or that this noble vintage is grape juice, and the purple robes are sheep wool dyed with shellfish blood. Or making love— something rubbing against your penis, a brief seizure and a little cloudy liquid. Perceptions like that— latching onto things and piercing through them, so we see what they really are. That’s what we need to do all the time— all through our lives when things lay claim to our trust— to lay them bare and see how pointless they are, to strip away the legend that encrusts them.” (6.13)

See also:


Bhante Gunaratana on Impermanence

In Mindfulness in Plain English, Bhante Gunaratana provides a chilling reminder of the unseen forces that are, at this very moment, slowly, imperceptibly destroying everything around us:

"Even as you read these words, your body is aging. But you pay no attention to that. The book in your hand is decaying. The print is fading, and the pages are becoming brittle. The walls around you are aging. The molecules within those walls are vibrating at an enormous rate, and everything is shifting, going to pieces, and slowly dissolving. You pay no attention to that either. Then one day you look around you. Your skin is wrinkled and your joints ache. The book is a yellowed, faded thing; and the building is falling apart. So you pine for lost youth, cry when your possessions are gone. Where does this pain come from? It comes from your own inattention. You failed to look closely at life. You failed to observe the constantly shifting flow of the world as it passed by. You set up a collection of mental constructions—“ me,” “the book,” “the building”— and you assumed that those were solid, real entities. You assumed that they would endure forever. They never do."


Your Two Minds

The distinction between our emotions and our thoughts about those emotions is one that's been made by many people. Stephen Covey pointed to "the gap between stimulus and response". Marcus Aurelius wrote about the need to "fence off" our mind from "the agitations of the flesh". In meditation we sit and dispassionately observe the emotions that arise in us. In Your Two Minds, Mark Manson offers another way to think about this dichotomy.

Manson distinguishes between the "Thinking Mind" - the part of our mind that is constantly chattering away to itself - and our "Observing Mind" - the part of our mind that keeps an eye on what our Thinking Mind is doing.

"Our Thinking Mind is like a horny dog on a leash that keeps running after things and if we aren’t used to using our Observing Mind, then our Thinking Mind drags us along with it."

Unfortunately most of the time that's exactly what happens. Our Observing Mind starts identifying with what our Thinking Mind is feeling, fuelling those feelings and setting up a feedback loop that robs us of any self-control.

"Most of our psychological and emotional stress happens because our Thinking Mind and Observing Mind are “fused” and we don’t recognize the difference."

The solution isn't to try to avoid those emotions, however.

"You can’t control your Thinking Mind. Those emotions pop up and will continue to pop up.

The trick is to not fuse with those emotions when they arise."

Manson offers some suggestions on how to do this:

  1. Use language carefully. Say "I feel anger/sadness/fear" instead of "I am angry/sad/frightened". By doing so we avoid identifying with our feelings and create psychological distance from them.

  2. Express gratitude for negative feelings. As William Irvine suggests, if nothing else they provide us with an opportunity to put these theoretical ideas into practice.

Meditations

MeditationsOne of life’s difficulties is remembering our past experiences. We struggle to recall what we were doing a couple of years ago. We read a book or watch a documentary, then a few months later find ourselves barely be able to remember its key points.

Over the years a number of practices have emerged to fight this amnesia. Diaries and journals have long been popular as a record of events. In 17th century Europe, keeping a commonplace book – an intellectual scrapbook of quotes, information, ideas and thoughts – was a recognised practice. Today we might take photos or videos, or write a blog.

Meditations is one such device – a collection of aphorisms, insights and observations written by Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius to remind himself how to live.

Meditations was never intended to be published or read by others. Even the title is unlikely to be original; Aurelius probably gave it no title at all. The short passages that comprise the work are haphazardly spread across twelve books with little to unify them. Nevertheless, a number of themes emerge.

Aurelius was heavily influenced by the Stoic philosopher Epictetus, in particular his idea of the “three disciplines” of perception, action and will. The discipline of perception is about remaining aware of the difference between an event and the interpretation we place on it. Translator Gregory Hays provides an example:

“For example, my impression that my house has just burned down is simply that— an impression or report conveyed to me by my senses about an event in the outside world. By contrast, my perception that my house has burned down and I have thereby suffered a terrible tragedy includes not only an impression, but also an interpretation imposed upon that initial impression. It is by no means the only possible interpretation, and I am not obliged to accept it. I may be a good deal better off if I decline to do so. It is, in other words, not objects and events but the interpretations we place on them that are the problem. Our duty is therefore to exercise stringent control over the faculty of perception, with the aim of protecting our mind from error.”

Having seen things for what they are, the discipline of action is about taking responsibility for those things that are in our control. In contrast, the discipline of will is about accepting the things that are outside our control, done to us by nature or by others.

Meditations is not a philosophy of how to enjoy life, but of how to get through it with minimal suffering. Its advice is unflinchingly practical. At times it’s grim and pessimistic, infused with a sense of the shortness of life. Not for nothing did Alexander Percy refer to it as “the unassailable wintry kingdom of Marcus Aurelius”.

See also:


Erich Fromm on Marriage

TheArtOfLoving"True love is not a feeling by which we are overwhelmed," said Scott Peck. "It is a committed, thoughtful decision... This person has made a commitment to be loving whether or not the loving feeling is present."

In The Art of Loving, Erich Fromm starts with the same premise, and extrapolates what this means for marriage:

"This being so, it should not make any difference whom we love. Love should be essentially an act of will, of decision to commit my life completely to that of one other person. This is, indeed, the rationale behind the idea of the insolubility of marriage, as it is behind the many forms of traditional marriage in which the two partners never choose each other, but are chosen for each other— and yet are expected to love each other...

To love somebody is not just a strong feeling— it is a decision, it is a judgment, it is a promise. If love were only a feeling, there would be no basis for the promise to love each other forever. A feeling comes and it may go. How can I judge that it will stay forever, when my act does not involve judgment and decision?"

However, Fromm continues, it's not that simple:

"Inasmuch as we are all one, we can love everybody in the same way in the sense of brotherly love. But inasmuch as we are all also different, erotic love requires certain specific, highly individual elements which exist between some people but not between all.

Both views then, that of erotic love as completely individual attraction, unique between two specific persons, as well as the other view that erotic love is nothing but an act of will, are true— or, as it may be put more aptly, the truth is neither this nor that. Hence the idea of a relationship which can be easily dissolved if one is not successful with it is as erroneous as the idea that under no circumstances must the relationship be dissolved."

See also:


Louis de Bernières on Love

Scott Peck suggested that it is when the mating instinct has run its course that the opportunity for true love begins. Writing in Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Louis de Bernières makes the same distinction between true love and being "in love":

"Love is a temporary madness, it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides. And when it subsides, you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion, it is not the desire to mate every second minute of the day, it is not lying awake at night imagining that he is kissing every cranny of your body. No, don’t blush, I am telling you some truths. That is just being “in love”, which any fool can do. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident."


The Obstacle is the Way

TheObstacleIsTheWayWe sometimes make the mistake of thinking that life is supposed to be easy. When difficulties arise we can become angry or frustrated at the interruption to our perfectly planned lives. We forget that problems are inevitable. "Life is difficult," Scott Peck reminded us. For Peck, discipline - specifically delaying gratification, accepting responsibility, dedication to the truth, and balancing - was the key to solving those problems. In The Obstacle Is The Way, Ryan Holiday argues that it's the "three disciplines" of Stoicism that we need.

"The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way," said Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius. Holiday argues that the obstacles in our lives are not merely to be seen as things to be overcome but as opportunities to practice some virtue or improve our condition. That with the right approach we can actually emerge on the other side of life's difficulties as better people. We shouldn't avoid difficulties, or learn to put up with them, we should embrace them as the fuel we need for self-growth.

Holiday advocates the Stoic "three disciplines" as the way of doing this: the disciplines of perception, action and will. Or, quoting Aurelius again:

"Objective judgement, now at this very moment.
Unselfish action, now at this very moment.
Willing acceptance - now at this very moment - of all external events.
That's all you need."

Perception

To a large degree, our obstacles are only obstacles because that's how we choose to see them. Once we recognise that the situation and how we feel about it are two separate things, we can look for alternative, more constructive interpretations. It's an idea that recurs in many other places, from Buddhism to Shakespeare ("There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so," says Hamlet).

Doing this requires us to learn to control our emotions (or "domesticate" them, to use Nassim Taleb's wonderfully evocative term), neither allowing them to control us nor pretending they don't exist. It requires a shift in perspective, looking for the bigger picture or interpreting the events in a different way. It requires mindfulness, focusing on the present moment, "not the monsters that may or may not be up ahead". It requires us to believe that there is a genuine opportunity here, buried inside the obstacle, and finding it.

"You lost your job or a relationship? That's awful, but now you can travel unencumbered... If someone you love hurts you, there is a chance to practice forgiveness."

The discipline of perception is also about recognising which things we have control over, and which we do not. As the Serenity Prayer says, "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference". The things we can change, we can then subject to action. The things we cannot change require us to exercise our will.

Action

"Once you see the world as it is, for what it is, you must act. The proper perception - objective, rational, ambitious, clean - isolates the obstacle and exposes it for what it is. A clearer head makes for steadier hands. And then those hands must be put to work."

Even if the conditions are not to our liking, we must act - with deliberation, boldness and persistence. We need to make a start, even if we're not sure of ourselves, using our frustration to power our actions. If we try something and it fails, we try something different. We iterate and keep moving forwards, step by step, focused on what is in front of us, dismantling our obstacles piece by piece. Whatever must be done, we do it, and we do it well, but not letting the best become the enemy of the good. What's right is what works.

Attacking problems head-on may not be the best approach. We need to look for opportunities to attack from the flanks, where we may meet less resistance. Or wait to be attacked, using the momentum of our obstacles against themselves. If we are patient, some obstacles may prove only temporary, fizzling out of their own accord.

Sometimes the correct action can be to not attack the problem at all, using the obstacle as an opportunity to explore a different direction altogether:

"There is a certain humility required in this approach. It means accepting that the way you originally wanted to do things is not possible. You just haven't got it in you to do it the "traditional" way. But so what?"

Will

Some problems may be outside our control. These must be endured through the exercise of willpower.

"If Perception and Action were the disciplines of the mind and the body, then Will is the discipline of the heart and the soul... Will is fortitude and wisdom - not just about specific obstacles but about life itself and where the obstacles we are facing fit within it."

Our will is like a fortress inside of us, but it's one we have to build and actively reinforce during the good times so its strength is available to us in the bad. One way to do this is by thinking about what may go wrong before beginning an endeavour: a "pre-mortem" or what William Irvine refers to as negative visualisation.

"Far too many ambitious undertakings fail for preventable reasons. Far too many people don't have a backup plan because they refuse to consider that something might not go exactly as they wish...

About the worst thing that can happen is not something going wrong, but something going wrong and catching you by surprise. Why? Because unexpected failure is discouraging and being beaten back hurts. But the person who has rehearsed in their mind what could go wrong will not be caught by surprise."

When we recognise that something is immune to action, we need to go with the flow, not struggle against it:

"It doesn't always feel that way but constraints in life are a good thing. Especially if we can accept them and let them direct us. They push us to places and to develop skills that we'd otherwise never have pursued."

Acceptance is not sufficient, however:

"The next step after we discard our expectations and accept what happens to us, after understanding that certain things - particularly bad things - are outside our control, is this: loving whatever happens and facing it with unfailing cheerfulness... We have to learn to find joy in every single thing that happens."

Echoing something that one of my schoolteachers once said when a pupil asked him how he could be so cheerful teaching the same material year after year, Holiday observes that if we have to put up with something, we might as well be happy about it. Since we can choose our response to every situation, why choose anything other than cheerfulness?

"See things for what they are. Do what we can. Endure and bear what we must." The Obstacle Is The Way provides an excellent introduction to the ancient philosophy of Stoicism and a practical guide to applying it in modern life.


Start With Why

In his TED talk Start With Why, Simon Sinek argues that what differentiates successful companies and individuals is that they don't simply have a great product to sell, they also understand why they do what they do:

"What you do simply serves as proof of what you believe. People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it."

Sinek argues that when hundreds of thousands flocked to Washington to hear Martin Luther King speak, none of them went to see him. They went for themselves, because his "why" resonated strongly with their own. He didn't say "I have a plan", as so many politicians do. He said, "I have a dream".

Similarly, we shouldn't try to sell a product by enumerating the great things it can do. We should explain why we built it, what we believe, what kind of person or company we are, what problem we set out to solve. 

Our emotions are more powerful than our logical mind. Often, all our logic does is manufacture post hoc rationalisations for what our emotions have already decided. By appealing to those emotions first, we make it more likely that others will want what we are offering.


Stop Trying to be Happy

In "Stop trying to be happy", Mark Manson argues that happiness isn't something to be sought directly: it arises naturally when we're living a life in accord with our values.

"Just as a confident man doesn't wonder if he’s confident, a happy man does not wonder if he’s happy. He simply is... Happiness is not achieved in itself, but rather it is the side effect of a particular set of ongoing life experiences."

Manson also makes a distinction between happiness and pleasure. He suggests that when most people seek happiness what they're actually seeking is pleasure - "good food, more sex, more time for TV and movies... and so on". However, pleasure is short-term and superficial. Happiness is more enduring, precisely because it arises as a by-product of the way we are living our life.

Manson disputes the idea that to be happy we need to be successful:

"For instance, a friend of mine recently started a high-risk business venture. He dried up most of his savings trying to make it work and failed. Today, he’s happier than ever for his experience. It taught him many lessons about what he wanted and didn’t want in life and it eventually led him to his current job, which he loves. He’s able to look back and be proud that he went for it because otherwise he would have always wondered “what if?” and that would have made him unhappier than any failure would have.

The failure to meet our own expectations is not antithetical to happiness, and I’d actually argue that the ability to fail and still appreciate the experience is actually a fundamental building block for happiness."

His broader point is an idea that I've heard others echo: that while setting goals is useful to give us a direction in which to head, whether we achieve them is secondary. What's important is what we do or learn while trying to get there.

If we focus too hard on the goal itself there's a danger that we won't know what to do when we achieve it. Focus on the goal of running a marathon and there's a risk that we stop running altogether once we complete it, feeling there's nothing left to achieve. Focus on running a marathon as a means to improving our fitness, or establishing a habit of running more frequently, however, and we're more likely to retain a sense of momentum.

Goals should be a means to an end, not an end in themselves. And then, even if we don't achieve them, we can still feel that we have learned something valuable on the way.

Thus:

"With regards to being happy, it seems the best advice is also the simplest: Imagine who you want to be and then step towards it. Dream big and then do something. Anything. The simple act of moving at all will change how you feel about the entire process and serve to inspire you further.

Let go of the imagined result — it’s not necessary. The fantasy and the dream are merely tools to get you off your ass. It doesn't matter if they come true or not. Live, man. Just live. Stop trying to be happy and just be."