How to Thrive in a World of Opinions

How to Thrive in a World of Opinions

Life moves fast. One day we are young with not a care in the world. As we grow older, we gain wisdom that comes from maturation and experience. Responsibilities pile up, and we get pulled in a million different directions. It’s natural we would seek advice on how to cope with everything. Thanks to technology, the internet makes it easier than ever to find others who share your same principles and values. The problem is that too much agreement, and too many “ideas” can make matters worse.

Never before have there been so many opinions thrown in our face. TV, advertising, and social media do the heavy lifting. Make tons of money. Date a beautiful (but not crazy) woman. Have children to extend your legacy. Drive the latest and greatest car. Live somewhere amazing. These messages are so common, our conscious mind can’t process it all. To help handle the overload, our subconscious mind takes over to help. We are internalizing conflicting messages that lead to more anxiety and uncertainty without even realizing it.

Beware the Advice of the Masses

Then there is the opinions of other people. Family, friends, business partners, co-workers. Everyone chimes in with their thoughts on what you should do with your life. Everywhere we go, opinions are there; unavoidable. It’s like a second voice in our heads, someone always there chirping. Combine it all together and the message is clear: we are inadequate and should be more successful.

Look no further than social media sites and blogs:

You need $20 million to be rich (I heard that line this week on a podcast)

If you’re not worth $1 million by 30, watch out!

By $40, you should have a net worth of $10 million

If you haven’t traveled the world yet, and don’t have an online business you can run from an island, you’re way behind

This is prevalent on social media. You go on Facebook or Instagram, and everyone looks happy and rich. Scrolling through your feed, you think, “What the f*ck? What am I doing wrong?” However, behind most of these accounts, you’d see the real story: misery, envy, insecurity, and the need for external validation.

Everyone’s needs and wants are distinct. What you seek in life is likely far different from myself. So many factors come into play, making it impossible to fit into a universal theory on “how to live.” We need to look inward, not towards opinions of others. Use the advice of others as a “means to an end.” Seek the best information and apply it. Reject what doesn’t fit you and move on.

Where most people fail is that they become “advice junkies,” seeking out the opinions of others, but never doing anything with it. The amount of content created in a day could take a lifetime to take in. You have to pick your poison, otherwise you are looking at diminishing returns.

Diminishing Returns

(Too much time invested in seeking advice diminished your efforts over time)

Fulfillment begins with you first. You must have your own house in order before you go out into the world looking for to add more on your plate. The issue is that too many of us are externally focused, and neglect ourselves. As the brilliant 19th century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer explains in his essay, The Wisdom of Life:

The principal element in a man’s well-being,–indeed, in the whole tenor of his existence,–is what he is made of, his inner constitution. For this is the immediate source of that inward satisfaction or dissatisfaction resulting from the sum total of his sensations, desires and thoughts; whilst his surroundings, on the other hand, exert only a mediate or indirect influence upon him. This is why the same external events or circumstances affect no two people alike; even with perfectly similar surroundings every one lives in a world of his own. For a man has immediate apprehension only of his own ideas, feelings and volitions; the outer world can influence him only in so far as it brings these to life. The world in which a man lives shapes itself chiefly by the way in which he looks at it, and so it proves different to different men; to one it is barren, dull, and superficial; to another rich,interesting, and full of meaning.

Without a strong sense of self, you’ll be chasing ghosts in all directions. You will lack the focus to put the necessary time in to be successful. One day you’ll be starting one project, then you’ll read about some other amazing idea, and go on to that. What results is only surface level understanding of a bunch of topics. No deep learning has happened, not enough to master and excel in any particular area. Because you are so anxious to succeed, you will do whatever it takes externally, even if it means neglecting your internal state.

You Need to Make Millions (or Do You?)

Money is certainly one of most important external factors in life. It’s hard to be happy and content when you are always worried about having enough money, or your basic needs aren’t met. But what about after this?. But where does it stop? What’s enough? You may read that studies have shown that $75,000 a year is the baseline, and that anything above that will not increase internal happiness. But from my own experiences, if you live on the coast in the U.S. (northeast or southwest coasts especially), then $75,000 does not go a long ways. So what is right? The answer (applicable to most questions) is that it depends.

Forge your own path, using your own principles and to block out the noise of other people. The worst kinds of people are those always giving their opinions. Avoid them the most. Arthur Schopenhauer believed that man struggles mightily with this. What should you do instead?

We should add very much to our happiness by a timely recognition of the simple truth that every man’s chief and real existence is in his own skin, and not in other people’s opinions; and, consequently, that the actual conditions of our personal life,–health, temperament, capacity, income, wife, children, friends, home, are a hundred times more important for our happiness than what other people are pleased to think of us: otherwise we shall be miserable. And if people insist that honor is dearer than life itself, what they really mean is that existence and well-being are as nothing compared with other people’s opinions.

Ever go into a store, try on clothing and find that nothing fits? There is a reason for this. Clothing is mass-produced, often loosely, to fit the majority of the population. Because the majority of people are overweight, clothing that would fit a slim, muscular man is scarce. This analogy relates to opinions you will hear – most of it applies to a generic crowd, to elicit your subconscious emotions, but it won’t apply to your situation. “Go do this, go do that” – it all sounds well and good. But everyone is so different that it usually fails to register beyond the surface. 

What you read is usually unsubstantiated claims, the creation of other people’s experiences or inherent biases. All advice is not created equal, so if your sources are junk, chances are you are getting fed a poor narrative. Everyone comes from a unique background with a certain set of circumstances. So it makes sense that we all can’t use the same blueprint to achieve the same thing. You have own strengths and gifts. Use them. Schopenhauer preached this 150 year ago:

The only thing that stands in our power to achieve, is to make the most advantageous use possible of the personal qualities we possess, and accordingly to follow such pursuits only as will call them into play, to strive after the kind of perfection of which they admit and to avoid every other; consequently, to choose the position, occupation and manner of life which are most suitable for their development.

Do you need to make $1 million? Maybe, but probably not. Probably not even close. Does this mean you are a loser? Someone who has failed to maximize life? No, not at all. What you need is what you need, and nothing more.

You could be content living in a small town in Nebraska, with a large family and cheap cost of living. Say you own a successful auto body shop. You get to interact with tons of people every day, forging relationships and friendships. You don’t have a second (or third, fourth, fifth, etc) income stream but so what? You’re net worth is comfortable, a great family, and strong friendships. You are free of debt, free of addiction, and healthy. In this example, what more does a man need?

Often those talking the biggest game are the weakest inside.  Same with those always boasting about external wealth – these people are often miserable and bored out of their minds. Look no further than celebrities – people who are worth millions and have a worldly fame – yet always in the news over petty dramas, addictions, or suicide.

How to Maximize Yourself

You will thrive and grow if you focus on yourself first. Look to enhance both your physical and mental gifts. Arthur Schopenhauer offers a simple routine to stay physically and mentally sharp:

Is it not in the lower classes, the so-called working classes, more especially those of them who live in the country, that we see cheerful and contented faces? and is it not amongst the rich, the upper classes, that we find faces full of ill-humor and vexation? Consequently we should try as much as possible to maintain a high degree of health; for cheerfulness is the very flower of it. I need hardly say what one must do to be healthy- avoid every kind of excess, all violent and unpleasant emotion, all mental overstrain, take daily exercise in the open air, cold baths and such like hygienic measures. For without a proper amount of daily exercise no one can remain healthy; all the processes of life demand exercise for the due performance of their functions, exercise not only of the parts more immediately concerned, but also of the whole body. For, as Aristotle rightly says, “Life is movement.”

Chasing external goals will get tiring if your internal state is lacking. One needs balance and purpose to admire external gifts. It’s better to strengthen your internal compass and do what you want to do ONLY. What is the perfect state? From Schopenhauer’s:

A quiet and cheerful temperament, happy in the enjoyment of a perfectly sound physique, an intellect clear, lively, penetrating and seeing things as they are, a moderate and gentle will, and therefore a good conscience- these are privileges which no rank or wealth can make up for or replace. For what a man is in himself, what accompanies him when he is alone, what no one can give or take away, is obviously more essential to him than everything he has in the way of possessions, or even what he may be in the eyes of the world. An intellectual man in complete solitude has excellent entertainment in his own thoughts and fancies, while no amount of diversity or social pleasure, theatres, excursions and amusements, can ward off boredom from a dullard.

You can find whatever you want if you stay closed-minded. If validating your own opinion is your goal, it’s easy. For instance, if you believe that marriage is bad, you can find 100 sources that confirm your belief. If you believe that marriage is good, you can find 100 sources to confirm your belief. That’s why it’s imperative to keep an open, skeptical mind. Always ask,

Is this true?

Why is it true?

Try to learn about the other side of the argument to make sure you aren’t being bias in your beliefs. It’s easy to fall into the trap of group-think and mental biases. By asking questions and being humble in your beliefs, you will catch yourself being close-minded and dismissive of other ideas and beliefs. 

Final Thoughts

Being satisfied with what you have is more important than getting more of what you want. The pleasures associated with external achievements subside quickly and you will find yourself filled with discontent, still unsatisfied in your mind. Happiness is not purely objective. It’s a cross between objective conditions and subjective expectations. From Schopenhauer:

The objective half of life and reality is in the hand of fate, and accordingly takes various forms in different cases: the subjective half is ourself, and in essentials is always remains the same.

Instead of chasing the future, try to stay in the present. Understand that media, advertising, and opinions warp and manipulate your expectations. The goal is to keep you uneasy about your place in life, always on the hunt for the next dopamine high. Advice and opinions from the wrong people also falls into this bucket. 

Counter these negative forces by practicing gratefulness for what you have in your life – your family, your health, and so on. Work hard and stay dedicated to your goals, but stop and take it all in from time to time. Otherwise, life passes you by. You want to forge a life of balance and meaning. The best way to do this is to maximize your internal state. If you succeed, your external state will take care of itself.

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