“Sometimes there's so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can't take it, and my heart is just going to cave in.” -- Ricky Fitts, American Beauty
I don’t think I could function in the world without seeing the good in it.
There have been some tragedies on my campus recently that made me think about life, death, and whether it’s possible to see beauty in it all. Too often, those who have a cohesive life philosophy are disappointed by what they see around them. All they see is ugliness. It’s hard not to -- having integrity and values means realizing that most of the people around you don’t. The bad news is, that’s life. Most people don’t have a philosophical view on the world around them, unfortunately for them. The good news is, it’s possible to overcome the pessimism that comes with realizing that the world is not the place you wish it was. The world isn't going to change, you have to change your own world.
If you hate something, think it’s immoral, ugly, or terrible, let it go. I hate the government and I just spent an hour filling out paperwork for the IRS which left me with only half of my brain cells. It sucks. It happens. It’s out of my control. I let it go.
Once you let go of what you hate, appreciate the things you do love. Having a stringent philosophy means that fewer things will strike you as truly beautiful, moral, or awesome, which means you have two options: you can let it get you down, because you think that the world is a less beautiful place because fewer things in it are beautiful; or, you can see the world for all of the beauty you do find in it, and appreciate those things even more because you hold them to a higher, more exclusive standard. The secret is, love and beauty are special because they’re rare. Appreciate it deeply where you see it and you’ll start to see more of it. That’s how that works, I promise. Keep a gratitude journal of everything positive, beautiful, or meaningful to you, and it will help you see more of that in your life.
Then, no matter how difficult it gets, live according to your values. Nothing feels worse than realizing that you compromised your values, even if it seems like the easier choice at the time. Do things that remind you of why your values are important to you in the first place -- read your favorite book, listen to your favorite song, look at your favorite work of art. Reinvigorating your values will make them stronger and make you less likely to stray from them.
Laugh at least once every day. If you’re about to go to bed and you haven’t laughed that day, first of all, figure out what you’re doing wrong, and second of all, listen to some stand up comedy. Find the humor in every situation, even the worst ones. If you can do that, the world will seem less ugly.
Think nice things about people. Say nice things, but more than that, think nice things. If you say it without thinking it, it will come across as fake and disingenuous. But if you compliment someone and truly mean it, it can do wonders for your happiness. Yes, your happiness. And I don’t mean love thy neighbor -- you don’t have to love anyone that isn’t deserving of your love -- but think kind thoughts about other people, even if they are imperfect. The virtue of benevolence will improve your outlook on life. There’s a strange kind of mental release when you let go of contempt, disdain, jealousy, or hatred for other people, and replace it with kind thoughts. Your natural disposition towards other individuals should be a positive regard. I feel a particular warmth when I am genuinely happy for someone or have only good thoughts about them. Humanity seems more beautiful, and people’s flaws and imperfections seem to wash away. There’s something good in everyone, and you can see it shining through them if you choose to see it. This will also bring it out in them -- win-win.
That last piece of advice is one that has changed my life. It’s easy to be frustrated with people for not being what you want them to be, but it’s hard to see the beauty in people in spite of the fact that they are not what you wish they were. These are just some guidelines to help me see the beauty in the world even when it doesn’t reflect my values. And sometimes, the beauty is overwhelming.