According to,

"Life hacking refers to any trick, shortcut, skill, or novelty method that increases productivity and efficiency, in all walks of life. It is arguably a modern appropriation of a gordian knot - in other words, anything that solves an everyday problem in an inspired, ingenious manner."

The same concept has ancient roots, however. Ancient practical philosophers developed techniques to be able to live more wisely. The two most practical schools coming out of ancient Greece were Stoicism and Epicureanism. These were taken on by the more pragmatic Romans - emperor Marcus Aurelius was a Stoic and wrote his "Meditations" on Stoic philosophy. Both of these philosophies are mentioned in the Christian New Testament during Paul's visit to Athens in the book of Acts. Ironically, it was the Christians who killed off these ancient schools in an act of tyranny, which may otherwise have remained open to this day.

Extracting modernised "life hacks" from both these ancient schools, updated in light of 21st century technology, science and culture, is a field one could write many lengthy books on.

I'd like to touch on some in particular here from Epicureanism, which cut many gordian knots in terms of wisdom, happiness, what it means to live well, and the relationship between individual self-interest and concern for others.

Instrumental alignment

Quite simply, in the Epicurean form of individualism the highest value in life is your own purely selfish happiness (hedone/eudaimonia) and peace of mind (ataraxia), rooted in your own survival and health (of both body and mind). All other values are secondary and subservient to this one.

This is often wrongly understood as an overly selfish philosophy, but this is a misreading. Achieving individual happiness requires satisfying basic human needs, including the need for friendship and community, which gives rise to reciprocal altruism out of enlightened self-interest.

Standards of justice and friendship are established pragmatically, as a social contract (Epicurus was one of the first contractarians), and following them (to some degree of closeness) is an instrument to your own happiness, when it instrumentally aligns with it and this is determined via the available empirical evidence. This again follows this principle of even determining how far one should adhere to social norms such as justice and friendship, should be made subservient to the ends of individual happiness - and verified empirically.

By the same standards, wisdom is defined primarily as practical skill with utility or expediency towards your own lifelong personal happiness. Wisdom only has value to you in so far as it makes you happy in the long run.

Those traits which are considered social virtues, such as being a good friend, compassionate, just, and fulfilling obligations, are rejected as good in themselves (or "intrinsically" good"), and instead judged instrumentally as a means to the end of your own personal happiness. This is known as "hedonistic virtue ethics", where you empirically and pragmatically decide where to act "good" where it can personally make you happy.

For example, if you desire friends, developing the virtues of a good friend can help you to obtain good friends and thus satisfy your basic human needs more efficiently.

Thus the value of social virtue is judged purely instrumentally, towards your own individual ends, based on utility and empiricism. At the same time you will be following your own nature - both human nature in general and your own individual nature or disposition. So your results will vary considerably (in terms of conventional morality) depending on whether or not you are a psychopath, for instance.

Most humans are highly social creatures and desire companionship, so being smart means learning to get along and seeking like-minded individuals. Being too much of an asshole is usually self-destructive, detrimental to the end of your own individual happiness. Civil interaction establishes other persons have boundaries and rights, and failure to respect these usually carries negative penalties for yourself - social animals like humans are biologically programmed to strive for social order.

To myself, this neo-Epicurean form of individualism is a way out of existential and moral nihilism, which adds respect for one's own dignity and right to live as your own end as an individual, not compromising on self-interest but with a large incorporation on concern for others as instrumentally aligned towards this end. Although some may consider such a form of individualism as rather amoral, basing and rooting it in self-respect rather allows healthy (as opposed to self-destructive) respect for others, as well as genuine friendship and community, and avoids a more crippling, guilt-ridden and shame-ridden form of morality which poisons the spirit. You can strive for a win-win arrangement instead of opting for martyrdom and being the "lose" part of a win-lose. This validates your own dignity and moral worth as an individual and human being. This provides a basis for asserting yourself (without trampling on others).

What you have here is essentially the kernel of an epic life hack. The fundamental principle is that of hedonic calculus - maximising your own personal pleasure, happiness and peace of mind planned over the course of your life - and minimising your own pain, suffering and misery. In today's world this may involve researching the latest evidence-based psychotherapies and applied happiness research in fields such as Positive Psychology. But above all it means thinking for yourself using all your own natural faculties, going by the empirical evidence while also being able to use gut feeling and intuition as appropriate. This is how you determine what is best for you.

Of course, this is just an option. I am not holding this "end" of life out as the Way, the Truth and the Life. But loving yourself and respecting your own dignity is a viable path and antidote to existential nihilism, particularly given the void left by the absence of religion (as was touched on by Nietzsche).

I will likely be returning to this topic at a later date, and possibly discussing some specific applications of these ideas.


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(posted this reply on the other site, too)

Nice thread ...not until meeting you here at AN, did I really dive too deeply into Epicurean philosophy ...and it's pretty fascinating, I have to say. I think why some find the ideas of 'maximizing' our pleasure and happiness, and trying to minimize suffering as immoral, is because we live in largely a Christian society, or at the very least a religious one. So, the idea of maximizing our pleasure or satisfying our desires -- can be seen as self centered, or egotistical. But, I see it as necessary to being instrumental in helping others. Only when we are at our personal bests, however that plays out for an individual...can we help another to be at their best.

But, I also believe that suffering has redemptive qualities...and yes, that concept comes from my Christian upbringing. The idea that clinging to suffering is somehow glorifying Jesus in his suffering, was something I used to strive for, as a Christian. So, the notion to put myself say above others in seeking happiness, would have been a foreign idea back then.

Thanks for posting this, it's definitely an intriguing topic. :)

I also believe that suffering has redemptive qualities

Redemption of course is a completely Christian notion: you are being redeemed from original and other sin, which would prevent eternal life, by undeserved suffering in this life. To me that is a sick view of life—making people feel that suffering is a good thing—and one of the appeals of epicureanism is that it opposes that viewpoint.

Unquestionably much can be learned in suffering. Finding out what went wrong and why you suffered, helps to avoid it in the future. People who have suffered are often more sympathetic with others. However, that does not make suffering per se a good thing. I cannot see that illness, poverty, or tragedy are good. They are bad things that sometimes have accidental good effects.

I had an uncle who died a horrible death, falling from a high scaffold, breaking every bone in his body. He died in agony three days afterwards. My mother, a deeply religious woman, said it was a blessing because otherwise he and my aunt would have divorced and brought scandal on the family. That's the way people used to think.

That's still the way a lot of people think, Dr. Clark, and we need to get the supernatural out of our mindset. The equations come out so much better.

we need to get the supernatural out of our mindset.

Truer words were never spoken. This was Nietzsche's plan:

In The Gay Science . . . Nietzsche presents an experimental naturalism that can be read as adumbrating the entirety of his philosophical activity. There, having proclaimed the death of God he calls for the “de-deification” of nature, along with the “naturalization” of the human being. The first part of this ambitious program requires us to expunge the residual “shadows of God” from our conceptions of nature, rooting out any vestiges of stability, immutability, and purpose—characteristics that Nietzsche sees as wishful “aesthetic anthropomorphisms” and resentful falsifications of the sovereignty of becoming. The second part requires that humankind itself be “translated . . . back into nature” in both anthropological and axiological terms. This involves, among other things, a more modest reconceptualization of the human being’s place within the aleatory flux of nature – particularly  with regard to the “false order of rank” that we have mendaciously read into our relation to other animals.

[from Who is Zarathustra’s Ape? By Peter Grof in A Nietzschean Bestiary - Beyond Docile and Brutal, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, p. 17 – 18]

@ Dr. Clark:

Can suffering have any redeeming value, though--from a completely secular viewpoint? I think so. This doesn't mean we accept and glorify suffering, rather it means we try to learn from it and grow. Even metals arrived at their destination, from a process known as smelting I believe we can only arrive at our best selves, through suffering. Not saying we should yearn for suffering, but we should accept it as a platform for growth. I don't believe we can find peace, without suffering. It is in the times of suffering that we find the strength to move forward to a better place.

That is what separates pro athletes from those who will never make it--their determination to succeed during the times of injuries, and set what makes them a pro...not their accomplishments, only. Babe Ruth had the most home runs in the history of baseball, but he also had the most strike outs. What should this tell us?

Yes, first comes the wedding ring and then the suffer ring. I am truely my own best friend but I did like having a woman around. I was happy in my own skin until she left. Now I can't get into my skin or her skin and that sucks.

I better quit. That borders on erotic.

Mequa...thanks for your reply.

I wish we didn't have to suffer in order to 'learn' and grow. In all things, pain is often a precursor to the good stuff. :)

But it's not true that all (or even most) suffering leads to learning and growing. And it's also not true that the only way to learn or to grow is to suffer first. So I guess there's something about this conversation that I'm not getting.

"No pain, no gain " can be a dangerous motto:

Overtraining is a frequent cause of injury and burnout in young athletes—tennis elbow is a good example—but it happens in other contexts as well. Classical pianists often injure themselves with overpracticing—the composer Scriabin was an instance—and singers force and cause vocal damage that is hard to repair.

Yes, but some suffering is needed. It might be true that the young man is dead, but the good that came out of it is that he is in heaven now and we have saved his immortal soul.

Also, this other guy. We bear him daily and today he is a millionaire. We beat Johnny too, and today he is a good student even if he is missing 3 fingers.

I really am taking your postings on suffering to heart but just not in a modern time frame. I'm stuck in the Middle Ages with it.

No worries, Michael. With the  recent change in government, iron maidens will no doubt be back on the market soon, along with new and improved versions of the rack and the wheel. We can have a suffering-based Mardi Gras.

@ Bertold, not in all cases, but in many. Suffering leads to growth, providing the person learned how to cope with the suffering and tried to use it to help others suffering also. To me, that is an alternative way to view suffering. I have helped people who have had situations in their lives that mirror painful ones of my own...without the experiences, I might not be as equipped to help. Like drug recovery counselors are often recovering drug addicts, themselves. There's a reason for that.


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