Wednesday, June 20, 2007

39 ways to live your life in an airy-fairy fantasy world

I just read an article called "39 Ways to Live, and Not Merely Exist" by someone named Leo Babauta, and while it seems on the surface to be life-affirming and generally good, it bothered me more and more as I read it. Not because some of the suggestions aren't good, but because many of them are airy-fairy, hippie nonsense that is great, unless you live in the real world. Furthermore, they assert a single ideal when it comes to what one "should do"; an ideal I feel is clich├ęd and lacking in both flexibility and understanding. So, consider this a point-by-point rebuttal and critique.
  1. Love. OK, a good start. Being able to love, and doing so wherever possible, is great. I also agree that this love can be for family or close friends, as well as romantic love.
  2. Get outside. Again, broadly speaking a good idea. Nature is good, and balancing one's indoor time with outdoor time is a good thing, by and large. I'd wait until it's nice, though. Rain, sleet etc. suck and do not engender an appreciation for the outdoors.
  3. Savor food. Food is great, but I've always taken offense to the idea that it must be consumed slowly and with excessive deliberation to be enjoyed. A fine dark chocolate truffle should be, yes. But a plate full of chicken wings deserves to be devoured as the velociraptors of yore devoured their hot-and-spicy chicken wings: quickly and messily. That is a pleasure in and of itself.
  4. Create a morning ritual. Morning sucks. It's tiring and mean. Coffee also sucks, but I understand that's a minority view. Either way, talking to myself and meditating will never make morning suck any less. It's to be gotten over with. Period. (mom, please stop reading this point NOW). Morning sex is good though, and can improve an otherwise-crappy time.
  5. Take chances. Spot on, something I've written about before.
  6. Follow excitement. OK, this is the first one that's nice in principle, but simply not realistic. Eventually, you have to actually get stuff done. Excitement is great but mundane tasks exist for a reason. You can't live your entire life on safari. It just doesn't happen.
  7. Find your passion. Yeah, this one's good too. It's on my to-do list.
  8. Get out of your cubicle. Good God, I hope I don't spend my career in a cubicle. But if I do, so be it. There's more to life than work, and if working in a cubicle gives me access to the things I want in life, that's a reasonable trade-off.
  9. Turn off the TV. There is some good stuff on TV, there really is. There is eye-opening, informative programming, there is uplifting, entertaining programming, and there is quality programming that's great for just turning your brain off for a limited period of time. There is, of course, a giant mountain of crap as well, and too much TV is bad. But to paint all of television with the same brush is simplistic and disingenuous.
  10. Pull away from the internet. First off, this guy really thinks his article is the only good thing on the 'net? Second of all, kiss my ass. There's a lot of good stuff on the net, too, and you only learn to sift the good from the bad through patience and experience.
  11. Travel. Travel is great, and most people love doing it and should do so to the extent they can. But become a freelancer, checking your email weekly? FANTASY LAND! Some jobs require physical presence, and they often pay enough for you to be able to afford to, you know, travel. Airplanes aren't free. Also, if you do travel, I'd highly recommend straying outside the most-touristy areas. The Eiffel Tower is fun and all, but there's more to France than that.
  12. Rediscover what's important. If you can reduce your life to a list of 4 or 5 keys things, you're a cloistered Buddhist monk and aren't reading this blog posting.
  13. Eliminate everything else. See above.
  14. Exercise. Yes, but do it because being a lard-ass is nasty. I was too fat for too much of my life. I've exercised extensively and regularly for two years now and I still hate just about every minute of it. So exercise, but do it to be healthier-up to 95% of American adults are overweight or obese. Be in the good 5%.
  15. Be positive. Yeah, because bottling up your negativity never has consequences! Look, life isn't always great-sometimes a little negativity is warranted. Just don't let it rule you.
  16. Open your heart. Tough thing to do, but worth it.
  17. Kiss in the rain. Passion is good, but anything can become routine. The key is to let the inner romantic have his moment when it's spontaneous and natural, not all the time. Also, don't pick wildflowers, pick a potato!
  18. Face your fears. Yup, good advice, and again, something I've written about before.
  19. When you suffer, suffer. This kind of contradicts his #15, but aligns nicely with my critique thereof.
  20. Slow down. No. The slower you go, the less you can do. And don't give me that "you enjoy it more" or "take time to stop and smell the roses" garbage. There's stuff to be done. Lots of it. The world, it turns out, is quite large. You want to travel? Hang out with friends? Watch the good TV shows? You gotta cram that into the 16 hours a day you're awake. And anyone who walks slowly on a sidewalk, obstructing those of us with better places to be deserves being pushed in front of a bus.
  21. Touch humanity. I don't need to talk to a smelly homeless dude to know his life sucks, I get it. Getting out of your comfort zone is a great experience, but to blithely say that everyone needs to experiences destitution first-hand is trite. Furthermore, you can cram your simplistic Buddhism-101 anti-materialism up your ass; how dare you tell me how to enjoy my life? I should feel guilty because I actually like the idea of watching movies (a pastime I do enjoy) on a 72" screen with 7.2 digital surround sound? Just because you can find enjoyment without material things doesn't mean there's anything intrinsically wrong with enjoying pastimes predicated on material possessions. Everyone likes different things and no one person can be the arbiter of what anyone else should like.
  22. Volunteer. Volunteering is good, but there are many ways to do it. The sick and dying are depressing and often icky. Not my cup of tea.
  23. Play with children. Yeah, just hang outside playgrounds and ask the wee kiddies to come play with you, I don't see how that could go wrong. Also, kids might be entertaining in small doses, but they're frustrating and draining on an ongoing basis.
  24. Talk to old people. Again, a broad statement. Some old people are interesting and have great stories. But many are senile, forgetful and incontinent. Either way, most of the elderly are at least a little bit creepy.
  25. Learn new skills. I agree with this one, but try not to lose the old skills, eh?
  26. Find spirituality. This, to me, is another classic example of assuming everyone is the same. Spirituality can be a great thing for some, but it's not for everyone. Some of us actually prefer proof and demonstrable, tangible credibility in the things in which we choose to believe.
  27. Take mini-retirements. Another fantasy-land invention. Every year you take off of work sets your career back by 18-24 months. Therefore, if you take your "mini-retirements" regularly, you'll just stall your career and once again, be unable to afford travel. And that whole "sell your house, live simply" crap? Yeah, selling a house takes like 2-12 months easily, depending on the market. And having shelter is a good thing. Living in tents 7 days a week gets old after awhile.
  28. Do nothing. Good advice, doing absolutely nothing every once and awhile is great for recharging the batteries. Although, again, he's contradicting his anti-TV statements here, he's agreeing with my opinion, so good for him.
  29. Stop playing video games. Again, the arrogance of telling me what I should and should not enjoy! I personally find moderated video game play to be an intellectual stimulant and a relaxing experience. I guess that makes me a slovenly wastrel. Oh no, wait, it makes him a dick for judging me.
  30. Watch sunsets, daily. First of all, overly-sappy and romantic. Second of all, some of us live in Manchester, where the "sun" is a myth at most. Finally, while I do love a good sunset, daily is a little overkill-it becomes a waste of time, and ruins the romance by converting it into standard routine.
  31. Stop reading magazines. Again, not all magazines are bad. Certainly, very few are as bad as the trashy romance novels he suggests as an alternative. Magazines run the gamut from vacuous celebrity-gossip to insightful political analysis, and to blacklist them as a hole is to cut yourself off from one of the most astute views of the society in which you live.
  32. Break out from ruts. I agree with this one, though he once again contradicts himself (by saying you should change the morning routine he suggested you establish way back in #4).
  33. Stop watching the news. Just because something is depressing, doesn't mean you have the right to be ignorant. The knowledge of the world around you can be vital in defining your place in the world, and knowing the day's events can lend you a depth and breadth of understanding that solely getting tidbits from your mother can never bring.
  34. Laugh until you cry. Laughing is great, and releases endorphins. But rolling on the ground laughing just makes me want to kick you in the ribs to see how funny you find that. I'm guessing, not very.
  35. Lose control. I'd modify this slightly and say exhibit control, but accept the limits. You can never control anyone else completely, and your self-control will forever be tested. Further, I agree that it's good to let go sometimes (beer helps with this).
  36. Cry. In Deep Thoughts By Jack Handey, he says "It takes a big man to cry, but it takes a bigger man to laugh at that man." I think that speaks for itself.
  37. Make an awesome dessert. Amend that statement to "Make or buy an awesome dessert" and you've got my vote. Personally, I like to go for the most chocolatey substance I can lay hands on, but to each their own.
  38. Try something new, every week. Good advice, albeit a little impractical.
  39. Be in the moment. Don't overplan, but a failure to plan simply results in you getting blindsided by something you should be able to deal with adequately. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. People often make the mistake of assuming that planning for something makes you inflexible; this is wrong-it simply gives you a framework in which to operate. Furthermore, while unanticipated problems will always surface, so will concerns you should be able to anticipate for, and these can (and should) be mitigated.
I don't think the article is bad per se. I just thinks it's naive and simplistic. I don't think it's fair to paint everyone with the same brush, something I feel the author does quite a bit. There are some great bits of advice there, but they must be tempered with a dose of pragmatism. Put another way, idealism is wonderful, but should never compromise realism.

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