Matthew Cocker
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How Philosophy Can Make You Happy

A Dive into Descartes and How Applying His Philosophy Can Help Make You Happy

Portrait of René Descartes by Frans Hals

If you are at all interested in philosophy or mindful thinking you will most likely have come across this man. Born on March 31, 1596, and living till the age of 53, René Descartes managed to achieve several things throughout what nowadays would be called a short lifetime. He was a French mathematician, scientist, and philosopher who made great strides in the field. As far as what those strides were, and how it can help us, let me go on to explain.

It was Descartes who came up with the formulation "Cogito ergo sum," or in English, "I think therefore I am." His belief was that the world we see, hear, and interact with may not necessarily be the true nature of things. Descartes pointed out that when we dream we believe that what is occurring is real until, however, we wake up and realise that we were in fact asleep. In a dream we interact with things, we see things, we hear things, and yet none of that is real. So Descartes proposed that the same thing could be happening to us when we believe that we are awake. How could one tell? The so-called real world could just be another dream that we are in, with our senses feeding us information from 'reality', and our intelligent minds creating a picture from that information. This was the idea that led to his famous quote. He argued that what we sense and what we perceive isn't necessarily true, however the only thing that can be true is the mind that is doubting and believing it's perceptions. In other words, one can only be assured of their own existence. If this world isn't real and we are in fact dreaming, then that must mean our true self is somewhere else doing the dreaming. Therefore, we must exist. "Cogito ergo sum."

Now, you may be wondering how that helps us to achieve happiness. It sounds a little bit depressing, doesn't it? The world and everyone in it, apart from you, may or may not be real. However, this gives us the perfect opportunity to decide what the world, and our experience of it, can and should be like. Think of it this way. Imagine all the things in your life right now that aren't going your way. For example, you might be stressed at your job, you might be in a bad relationship or no relationship at all, you might have low self-esteem and struggle to think positively about yourself. The list goes on. Well, armed with this knowledge, you can change all of that. Stressed? Whatever is stressing you may or may not be real. So what is the point of stressing about it? It doesn't serve any purpose and it impacts you in a negative way. Low self-esteem? The people who you believe judge you about your looks, intelligence, whatever it is, they may or may not be real. So who cares what they think? You shouldn't one bit. They could just be a character that your mind has created to populate this world. Nothing more, nothing less. I'm not saying that this is a quick fix to whatever problems you have that are causing you to be unhappy. This is an ongoing process and it will take time to become adjusted to the idea that the world as we know it may not be real, so there isn't any point at all in letting it get you down. Whether anything is real or not, you deserve to be happy. That's the bottom line.

Obviously this can also be said of the positive things in life. The holidays, the nights out with friends, the new puppy you just got. None of them may be real either. Again, there is a unique way of looking at this. Instead of giving up, in a sense, and not bothering to make any new memories in fear that they aren't real, you can choose to focus on the feeling those moments give you. Just because you can't be certain that the world we live in isn't a dream or simulation doesn't mean that the feelings you get from said dream aren't real. They are as real as anything. Remember, in dreams you are capable of feeling emotions, and just because you wake up doesn't take away from anything you felt. For example, have you ever had one of those dreams were you fell in love with someone and went on to live happily ever after, but then the alarm went off? You woke up and felt a bit annoyed, maybe even sad that it wasn't real because you actually felt like you were in love with that person? Well, it's the same here. Just because you might wake up any moment does that mean that you didn't really love your friends or your family? No of course it doesn't. We can all still experience those happy moments with friends, family or random strangers who make us smile for little reasons or even no reason at all. What this concept should do, if anything, is help you treasure those moments even more. By understanding, and accepting, that we know barely anything about life, we can start to have fun with it in a way we never have before.

To sum it all up, yes we may be in a dream or simulation or whatever you prefer to call it. But, that should not stop us from living our lives to the fullest. You are the one thing that is certainly real, and if the rest of the world isn't, then that means that you are in charge of your reality. Remember this is your dream! You get to choose what happens. If you focus on the bad, then you will keep dreaming up bad things for yourself. If you disregard the bad, because again it may or may not be real, and instead focus on the good things then surely your 'real' self will dream up even more of those good things. It all begins with a choice and that choice is yours, and yours alone, to make. Choose to be happy by disregarding the bad things as not real and focusing on the good things in life that make you happy.

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