Upgrade Your Thinking

Thinking
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Why Philosophy is Awesome

We don’t have to start from scratch to create a good thinking system. The great philosophers of the past have already done it for us! We can learn their system of thinking, which has been validated and passed down through time for thousands of years. When we use the thinking system of past sages instead of our own unproven and untested ideas, we will become more happy, free, successful, and effective in life.

How to Learn Philosophy

When learning philosophy, the focus is not on memorizing knowledge to show off to others. The focus is on using it in your life and seeing if it is helpful for you. In other words, you have to be both “The Thinker” and “The Doer”.

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My Experience

In the past couple of months, now that COVID restrictions have loosened in my area, I reconnected in person with many friends whom I haven’t seen in a while. Many of them commented that I seem to be very happy and wondered what changed for me. I reflected that it must be because I’ve been immersing myself in philosophy over the past year and a half, and now I’m able to recall and use those teachings in my daily life. As a result, things that used to be problems for me get solved easily and effectively now.

  1. Re-selecting life values and goals
  2. Choosing happiness over pleasure
  3. Controlling negative emotions
  4. Responding to people’s bad behavior
  5. Whose opinions to care about
  6. Time management and priorities
  7. Choosing a restaurant
  8. Food and eating
  9. Leisure time and influences
  10. Not being afraid of problems

1: Re-Selecting Life Values and Goals

Before learning the philosophies of wise sages, I used to care heavily about money, prestige, fame, and physical appearances. I felt ashamed if I didn’t earn as much money as others or look as good as others. I looked up to people who were famous and prestigious.

  • “Life is short — the fruit of this life is a good character and acts for the common good.” — Meditations (Stoicism)
  • “Whatever abilities I have, I should not be selfish with them.” — The Guide to a Happy Life (Confucianism)
  • “View others’ gains as my own gains. View others’ losses as my own losses.” — The Treatise on Response and Retribution (Daoism)
  • “Always hold the intention to benefit and comfort others.” — The Ten Virtuous Conducts (Buddhism)

2: Choosing Happiness over Pleasure

Before learning philosophy, I thought pleasure was the same thing as happiness. I often thought about eating delicious food, going on vacations, watching some emotionally riveting TV shows, and playing video games. These things all stimulate the brain with pleasure chemicals s like a drug, and they result in an emotional low afterwards.

3: Controlling Negative Emotions

All philosophies aim to reduce your negative emotions and help you cultivate peace, ease, and happiness. Recently, when my parents accidentally lost my wallet with all my ID cards and bank cards in it, I only got upset for 5 minutes, and then I was able to return to peace after 10 minutes.

4: Responding to People’s Bad Behavior

Philosophy teaches us to only focus on our behavior and to treat others virtuously regardless of their behavior. After all, I am the person seriously learning and practicing philosophy, not them.

Example 1:

When I covered a class for another teacher recently, one student was extremely obnoxious by spamming the chat and interrupting everyone when they were talking.

Example 2:

One of the people living next door likes to smoke on the driveway. Afterwards, he just drops the cigarette butt on the ground. When the wind blows, many cigarette butts will come to my driveway. My mother was very annoyed at this. She felt like the neighbor should know to be more polite and to clean up after himself. But I learned from philosophy to not expect others to be good because they never learned philosophy. I’m the one who is learning philosophy, so I need to be the master of my own emotions rather than letting the outside control my emotions.

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5: Whose Opinions to Care About

In the past, I cared a lot about everyone’s opinions, including my parents, grandparents, friends, colleagues, and even strangers! Later, I learned that we should only care about the opinions of wise sages because they truly want the best for us AND have the wisdom to know what is best for us. If we follow their advice, our life will get better and better. But if we care about anyone and everyone’s opinion, then we set ourselves up for failure and unhappiness.

Example 1:

My grandpa often tells me to keep busy and work lots and make more money. Philosophy teaches me to focus on cultivating my kindness and wisdom. Hence, I now work enough to earn enough money, and I also make use my work to help others. But I don’t take on extra part-time jobs anytime. Instead, I use all my leisure time to study philosophy or to help the people around me. I also communicated with him about helping others is a much better life mission than simply making money.

Example 2:

Many of my friends have plenty of money and think it’s normal to spend their money on pleasure such as restaurants, games, and vacations. I remember talking to a friend recently and explaining how I’ve been practicing the virtue of frugality; my monthly expenses are now extremely low, so I have very little financial pressure. He thought I was quite strange.

6: Time Management and Priorities

Before, I often felt bad saying no to people who asked me for help. But like everyone else, I’m very busy!

7: Choosing a Restaurant

All philosophies teach us to be considerate towards other people. Although I choose to eat vegan, I make sure to not be demanding or judgmental towards other people who are not vegan. After all, to be kind towards animals but not to my own family or friends would be very hypocritical.

Example 8: Food and Eating

Before I learned about philosophy, I used to be quite picky with my food. I picked my foods based on taste rather than on health. I also indulged in unhealthy snacks. After I learned Confucianism, I learned that having a healthy body is the first requirement for being a good person because a good person wouldn’t make their parents worry, and parents often worry about their children’s health. Therefore, I started learning about healthy eating and encouraged my parents to eat healthily with me.

Example 9: Leisure Time and Influences

Philosophers all teach us to choose our surrounding people and influences very carefully. We need to surround ourselves with virtuous and positive influences and get rid of negative influences.

Example 10: Not Being Afraid of Problems

I used to get really annoyed and unhappy when I faced problems and hardship in life, especially if it involved other people. I remember thinking life would be so much easier if I could just live alone by myself and not have to deal with anyone else’s problems. That kind of thinking is a result of my lack of wisdom to effectively handle problems.

Example 1:

When I got a painful canker sore in my mouth, I viewed it as a chance to practice the virtue of “enduring hardship”. I worked very hard to make sure I didn’t get angry at the people around me due to the pain in my mouth. Therefore, this painful canker sore is here to help me grow.

Example 2:

When I have a difference of opinion with others, or when people in a group all have differences in opinions, I used to get annoyed and not want to deal with people’s dramas. But now, I view it as a chance to use philosophy to find a solution that everyone can be happy with. Therefore, these interpersonal conflicts are here to improve my abilities.

Conclusion

If you want to improve every aspect of your life, then improve your thinking. If you want to improve your thinking, then learn philosophy. Find a philosophy that resonates with you, and then set aside a large period of time (such as a few months to a year) to learn one book from that philosophy. Read and reflect on it every day until you can use its teachings naturally in your daily life.

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Alex Chen

Alex Chen

Passionate about self-cultivation, happiness, and sharing wisdom.