Connecting some threads: a well-balanced life

Me, tweetin’ earlier this evening:

And I went on to remind myself: “Gotta be constantly tweaking the recipe, right? I kinda know the ingredients but the ratios get out of whack”. I say all this because it reminded me of something that I bookmarked a couple months ago and forgot to share, which is Seth Roberts on Optimal Daily Experience (via Justin Wehr):

Everyone knows about RDAs (Recommended Daily Allowances) of various nutrients. In a speech to new University of Washington students, David Salesin, a computer scientist, advised them to “maintain balance” by getting certain experiences daily:

  • something intellectual [such as a computer science class] (not so hard in college);
  • something physical (like running, biking, a team sport);
  • something creative (like music, art, or writing); and
  • something social (like lunch with a friend).
  • This served him well in college, he said, and he continued it after college.

    Roberts goes on to propose his own list. This isn’t rocket surgery. Make some basic priorities, try to check them off on a regular basis, re-evaluate every so often. So I think to myself, how simple would it be to take a basic calendar, divide each day into four quadrants for these four, and add a little check marks as appropriate so you can track yourself? Very simple. Done.

    It also kinda ties in with Austin Kleon’s tumble about Ben Franklin and pros and cons lists. Says Ben:

    And tho’ the Weight of Reasons cannot be taken with the Precision of Algebraic Quantities, yet when each is thus considered separately and comparatively, and the whole lies before me, I think I can judge better, and am less likely to take a rash Step; and in fact I have found great Advantage from this kind of Equation, in what may be called Moral or Prudential Algebra.

    First off, I love the phrase “Moral or Prudential Algebra”. It ties in with my general attitude of 19th-century optimism (which phrase I stole for my Twitter bio), the idea that with a little forethought and pluck and some striving, you can make Good Life Decisions. And secondly, there’s that idea that you should lay it all out where you can look at it–and this is not just for quote creative unquote stuff. The point is, your life is the Ultimate Creative Project, if you will, so you’d best keep an eye on the how the stuff’s accumulating. Not the details themselves, but the pattern, the trend. To quote Colin Marshall again:

    Satisfaction is a product not of where you are, but of where you’re going. To get calculistic, it ain’t about your value, it’s about your first derivative (and maybe your second). In this light, statements like “When x happens, I’ll attain happiness” don’t make sense, but ones like “While x is happening, I’ll be happy” make somewhat more.

    And a bit later in the evening I was reading Derek Sivers’ excellent notes on The Happiness Hypothesis (in the bookpile now) and I came across a couple quotes that tie in with Roberts, Salesin, and Franklin. First on moral education:

    Moral education must also impart tacit knowledge – skills of social perception and social emotion so finely tuned that one automatically feels the right thing in each situation, knows the right thing to do, and then wants to do it. Morality, for the ancients, was a kind of practical wisdom.

    and then on choices vs. conditions:

    Voluntary activities, on the other hand, are the things that you choose to do, such as meditation, exercise, learning a new skill, or taking a vacation. Because such activities must be chosen, and because most of them take effort and attention, they can’t just disappear from your awareness the way conditions can. Voluntary activities, therefore, offer much greater promise for increasing happiness while avoiding adaptation effects.

    Note to self: moral education (not just ethics stuff, but we’re venturing into Franklin’s thirteen virtues here) involves a set of skills that you can practice. Practice and it becomes voluntary, habitual, sustaining. That’s my working theory, in any case. So what have I learned today? Pay attention. Make good choices. Nail the basics, consistently. Basically, the most vague, mundane things ever, but sometimes having a new sense of the gestalt of the whole endeavor can be very refreshing.

    2 thoughts on “Connecting some threads: a well-balanced life

    1. One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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