Posts Tagged ‘Socrates’

Win the Day

July 25, 2012



In Ancient Greece there lived a stout, bearded, portly, loincloth clad philosopher by the name of Socrates who boldly claimed, “the unexamined life is not worth living”.  The phrase has endured for thousands of years, spurring debate in countless first year philosophy classes around the world.  It also feels like the most fitting starting point in my journey to discover (or rediscover) wisdom, my happiness and a sense of integrity.


The famous quote was delivered while he was on trial, accused of ‘corrupting the Athenian youth’.  He was found guilty and, rather than admit his philosophies were detrimental to society and be granted leniency, he took his own life.  Philosophers and historians believe that the trial was unjust and that Socrate’s was more an enemy of the rich and powerful than a corrupter.


He was an expert orator and untouchable in debates, a favorite activity in the bustling Athenian marketplace he considered his home.  Crowds would gather to see Socrates in action, for entertainment and education.  Socrates believed himself to be a ‘gadfly’, stinging people out complacency and forcing them to think about the ‘greater’ questions of life.  Socrates believed that it was our human obligation to think critically about life, our only gateway to happiness.


“Integrity is the essence of everything successful.” ~ Robert Buckingham Fuller


As mentioned in my last post, my homework was to examine what it is that is keeping me from happiness. I previously identified that happiness requires personal integrity and self-satisfaction, and without both I’ll never truly experience fulfillment.  I decided that the best way to tackle this task is to create a personal inventory, a list of gripes I have with myself in order to better understand my current situation.  If you want to know what’s in your bag, flip it over and empty it out.


The exercise seemed simple to me: make a list of what I don’t like about myself.  I took out an old-fashioned piece of lined paper and a pen and plunked it down on the dining room table, determined to log all of the gripes I have with myself.  Hmm… on second thought, the whole thing seemed a bit masochistic.  To soften the blow, instead of titling the list “things I hate about myself”, I drew a ‘frownie face’.  And, with that careful euphemism, I was off to the races.


“There are only two types of problems, the ones we solve and the ones we create.” ~ Mike Murdock


At first, the whole process was depressing.  As each item flowed from my brain to the paper it became increasingly clear to me that I was action-packed with problems.  My list was long and extensive, and as I looked it over, I was able to edit it, crossing off items I deemed trivial and combining others that seemed related.  I thoughtfully stared at my refined list and I felt suddenly overstruck by emotion.  The list represented everything about myself that I hated.  Every doubt and insecurity was right there in front of me.


I can’t be naïve and believe that this was the first time I’ve ever thought of these issues.  Inherently, all of us are self-aware of our insecurities and the bulk of what keeps us from a sense of integrity.  Truthfully, most of what was on my list was entirely within my control.  I try to remind myself that there is no sense in focusing on issues that are beyond my grasp of influence.  Therefore, my emotion was impelled from the realization that, despite the fact that I have practically always known deeply what troubles me about myself, I’ve chosen to continually live this way.  It truly is masochistic.


Why do I keep leaving things to the last minute?

Why do I overeat?

Why am I so disorganized?

Why do I neglect my personal health?

Why am I always so stressed?

Why do I lose my temper?

What is it about Pringles, ‘when you pop, you can’t stop’?


I’ve known these things since my adolescent years and it was overwhelming to think about how and why I continue to torture myself.  I know that I’m happier when I’m organized.  I know that I feel a sense of integrity when I can control my food cravings.  I can control my temper, can’t I?  The old axiom goes, “Those who know better, do better”, and yet, something was keeping me from ‘doing better’: me.


Afterwards, I looked online to see how my dissatisfaction measured with others.  I found a list of “The 10 Things Unhappy People Have in Common”:


  1. They hate their job
  2. They’re constantly worrying about money
  3. They don’t have any active hobbies
  4. They have wandering minds
  5. They commute a long distance
  6. They think ‘stuff’ will make them happy
  7. They’re lonely
  8. They don’t like their town
  9. They don’t have pets

10. They don’t like themselves


Generally, I could relate to some of the items on the list, yet others seemed of greater importance to me at earlier stages of my life.  Naturally, my greatest concern is with #10.  Integrity.


The whole activity had me in a bit of a sour mood.  I moved on from the list and turned my attention to researching the subject further online.  I am a junky for self-help blogs and slowly I found my mood changing.  As I read, it donned on me that I was not alone.  Most of the blogs I frequent are people introspectively analyzing their lives, yearning to change themselves for the better.  Even some of the more objective sites I follow, online magazines and news and philosophical and psychological academic journals, appeal to our human need for growth.  It felt better knowing that I wasn’t alone, that others are aware of their problems and searching within for answers.  Most of us know we have an itch, but can’t seem to figure out how to scratch it.


“Problems do not go away, they must be worked through or they remain, forever a barrier to the growth and development of the spirit.” ~ M. Scott Peck


I looked around my house and noticed some of the very things that have been nagging at me: my workspace was cluttered and needed attention; there were stacks of folded and unfolded laundry on my couch that needed to be put away; and, it was nearly the afternoon and I hadn’t exercised.  These were the causes of my personal discontent.  Inevitably, I’ll end up in a situation where I’ll frantically search my office for a paper I require or face disappointment because the shirt I want to wear isn’t ironed.  Also, I can’t remember how many times I’ve told myself, “I’ll exercise later”.


You don’t need to be an Ancient Greek philosopher to figure out what makes you unhappy about yourself; it’s probably staring right at you.  I’ve begrudgingly been told Thomas Jefferson’s truism, “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today” far to many times to remember.  Instead, I’d always preferred Mark Twain’s “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow”.  Kidding aside, my habit of procrastination has held me from happiness on more occasions that I can remember.  So instead of continuing with this self-fulfilling prophecy, I got to work, and it felt good.  I cleaned, organized and exercised and I remembered how good it felt to be this productive.


“Win the day” ~ Oregon State


At the end of the day, I felt good about myself because I was productive with my time and energy.  In the moment, I was happy with myself, and when my wife returned from work, she seemed happy with me.  It felt like my own personal victory.  I chose not to focus on all the things I couldn’t accomplish today, or some of the deeper issues I need to focus on.  Instead, I enjoyed my brief success and I was reminded of the University of Oregon’s mantra, “win the day”.


Initially, heeding Socrates advice of living the examined life may feel devastating, uncovering skeletons locked away in the closet, right where we left them.  Dissecting ourselves is a daunting chore, and if we stop midstream we’ll be no further than we started.  It’s analogous to going to Ikea and buying a bookshelf, dumping out the contents and stopping there. If we want the bookshelf, we’ve got to build it and that takes hard work.  Unfortunately, life doesn’t come with instructions.


Yesterday was a good day, and getting my thoughts on paper today is satisfying.  For now, it’s time to get up and get on with my day.  I enjoyed the gym so much yesterday I’m going to go back for a repeat performance.  I’m starting to look like Socrates.