Why, out of sheer determination and the will to optimize, we often lose sight of the good – and of ourselves – the philosopher explains. Ina Schmidt.
That would have to be possible: three kilos down, twice a week to the gym and daily fresh and healthy to cook. Besides, I have to muck out the wardrobe and finally report back to Aunt Hilda. And when I’ve tackled these little goals, then I can finally dare to go to the big ones. Maybe even the foundation of my own agency. And then my life gets better. Definitely better than it is now. Or?
Why does it still have to be better?
In principle, there is little to complain about the human endeavor to make things a little better, yes, maybe even to put everything on a map and to set really big goals. It inspires us to believe in the better and not always content ourselves with what is already there. After all, science and progress live on this curiosity for the “not yet”. And some of what we have put together as humanity, can certainly be seen. However, this quest also has its downsides.
At present, the desire for continuous improvement seems to have become an end in itself in all circumstances, the credo of personal happiness search. And those who do not set noble goals do not seem to have understood them, they will hopelessly get stuck in the mire of mediocrity and unlived potentials. So everything is not asked about what is good, but what could be even better: starting with the critical look in front of the mirror on the question of the best place to live and job to dating.
The French thinker Voltaire has called the “better” the enemy of the good. He also did not question the human quest for a “good life”. But Voltaire’s consideration takes an important step beyond this: What happens if we can not recognize this already existing “good” in our lives, because we are too busy thinking of goal to goal, of improvement to improvement? Every state, every partner, every apartment, every job has definite blemishes and imperfections. If we take this as an opportunity to move on immediately, it may even be that we will change something. But we will not experience one thing: an inner state that does not quarrel with every imperfection, but recognizes it as part of living processes.
Be at peace with ourselves
When we are able to focus on what is, we learn something that we can not learn in the fast lane: the sense of inner coherence that does not mean the absence of movement, but only the one Absence of a given direction. This does not mean giving up all longings or any purposeful act. But when we are one with ourselves and our lives, we will realize in the more or less aimless way of dealing with the present which goal is worth pursuing in its own way – and which is not.
What exactly does that mean? Maybe I’m considering a job change or thinking about moving out of town to a bigger house in the country. Everything supposedly improvements of my life, goals in the realization of which I can invest a lot of time and energy. But the key question is: what do I really expect from it? Is the new job really what I want, or just a means to an end, to get away from the adversities of the current job? Do I want to move to the countryside because more tranquility and fresh air are a need? Or is it more of a romantic idea of country life, which is gone immediately when I rake leaves in rubber boots and cut the hedge?
If I have the courage to be honest with myself, then sometimes there are completely new possibilities: the clarifying conversation with the supervisor to create new working conditions, so that I do not do the job in which I am actually quite satisfied must change. An apartment in the city, but with a larger balcony and a private raised bed.
Because often enough we find what we long for, quite surprisingly
Only if we find a compass within ourselves, we can recognize our essential concerns and shape the change in exchange with the world. “Arriving at one’s own” means neither standstill nor narcissistic navel-gazing, but harbors the power to calm down when on the move – in order to bring about changes on the way. Because often enough we find what we long for, quite surprisingly. Precisely because we have set no clear goals. This may not always be the intended better of the good. But maybe the best thing that could happen to us.
Dr. Ina Schmidt is a freelance philosopher and founder of the “denkraeume”, an initiative for philosophical practice, as well as lecturer at the University of Rostock. Her book on the topic: “The goal is in the way, a philosophical search for happiness.” (240 p., 20 Euro, Bastei Lübbe)