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What is Life?

I'm going to violate Einstein's first principle, Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler and claim that there are only four dimensions to our lives:

survival (food, clothing, shelter, safety)
societal (roles, responsibilities, relationships)
lifestyle (wealth, influence, activities)
personal (mind, body, spirit, character)

Risking (once again) the simplistic label, hypothesize that the sole objective in life is contentment (or satisfaction, happiness, fulfillment, etc. - choose an adjective - any or all). Given this, our overall contentment level logically follows from:

happiness within each of life's dimensions, and
the complex interaction of these various happiness quotients.

Happily (given imagination, energy, intellect, and the good fortune of living in an open society), we can exercise (and sometimes expand) choice, and thus our level of contentment within any of life's dimensions.

Where choice is limited, Seneca is our contrarian voice of hope:

If you would make a man happy, do not add to his possessions but subtract from the sum of his desires,


Not he who has little, but he who wishes more, is poor.

Thus it is eminently possible to be content even though certain qualities of life are forbidden.

Wealth and power expand choice in certain dimensions, leading to situations in which other areas of life may become neglected. An abundance of choice may in fact be as much of a problem as too little. For example, one can place too much emphasis on the secular at the expense of the spiritual ...

It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. -- Jesus Christ

A balance of ALL dimensions in our lives (as with dieting and exercise) would seem to be desirable.

The abstract definitions above beg for an engineering approach to achieving contentment, so ...

(1) For each of life's dimensions, identify those choices that are actually available and those that are not.
(2) Find ways to expand choice.
(3) Evaluate choices (real and potential) in terms of personal satisfaction.
(4) Optimize overall satisfaction.

Now this step-by-step approach IS highly simplistic. One can't just whiz through the list once and plan an entire life. This is a complex and continuing process, and moreover our beliefs, attitudes and perceptions change over time ...

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.
-- Heraclitus

The second item above is the key to the process and usually involves time and effort NOW for a measure of satisfaction in the FUTURE. It is a measure of one's character to identify and engage in these tradeoffs ...

Character is destiny. -- Heraclitus

Also since time is such an important part of our lives we should use it wisely ...

Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that's the stuff life is made of. -- Benjamin Franklin from 'Poor Richard's Almanac'

But time is simply a resource, albeit a strange one. Sometimes we can set the wheels in motion to support our goals independent of other activities; for example we can establish an investment program that uses the compounding effects of time to grow our wealth. However, most of the time one must choose activities singularly. Should you become a doctor or a dentist; a fireman or a businessman? Should you vacation in the mountains or at the shore? And while many such decisions may not have much impact on your overall happiness, some are crucial to your future. Furthermore, since we live ENTIRELY in the present these choices must always be made NOW (a little zen thought here I suppose)....

Alike to Those who in the Past repair,
And Others who at some Tomorrow stare,
A Wise Man from the Tower of Darkness cries,
"Fools! your Reward is neither Here nor There!"
-- Omar Khayyam

And since deferring decisions that can materially affect your future may be habit forming ...

What may be done at any time will be done at no time. -- Scottish Proverb

consider a pro-active approach ...

Let us train our minds to desire what the situation demands. -- Seneca

to avoid a passive result ...

Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans. -- Thomas La Mance, John Lennon

So ...

Get busy living or get busy dying. -- Andy Dufresne, 'The Shawshank Redemption'

or if you prefer a softer, poetic version ...

Come, fill the Cup, and in the warmth of Spring
The Winter Garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a way to go
And Lo! the Bird is on the Wing.
-- Omar Khayyam

The above (hopefully thought provoking) discussion of the purpose and pursuit of life is (despite implicit protest) HIGHLY simplistic. No one can lay claim to more than a surface understanding of the reason for our existence. But there is hope ...

The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper. -- Eden Phillpots

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