Happy Trav­els

Phi­los­o­phy can help you to main­tain men­tal well-be­ing on the road — here’s how

Business Traveler (USA) - - INSIDE - By Jenny Southan

Travel pro­vides an ex­cel­lent op­por­tu­nity for “be­ing philo­soph­i­cal, ”hence help­ing main­tain men­tal well-be­ing on the road

Most peo­ple, af­ter a stress­ful ex­pe­ri­ence or some bad news, will have been told by a well-mean­ing per­son to“try to be philo­soph­i­cal about it.”But what does that mean, and can phi­los­o­phy re­ally help to im­prove our men­tal state?

Plenty has been writ­ten on the sub­ject of liv­ing a happy, ful­filled life – from as far back as the an­cient Greeks it has been hotly de­bated – but not ev­ery­one se­ri­ously asks them­selves the kinds of ques­tions that might lead them to mak­ing the best choices.

In Fe­bru­ary 2012, global re­search com­pany Ip­sos con­ducted a poll about hap­pi­ness, sur­vey­ing 18,687 adults across 24 coun­tries. On aver­age, across the planet, 78 per­cent of those sur­veyed said they were“happy,”and 22 per­cent re­sponded they were“very happy.”In­done­sia led the hap­pi­ness quo­tient out of the sur­veyed coun­tries, with 51 per­cent of par­tic­i­pants re­port­ing that they are“very happy,”fol­lowed by In­dia at 43 per­cent, Turkey at 30 per­cent and Aus­tralia and the US tied at 28 per­cent. Mean­while, the num­ber of“very happy”peo­ple was be­low the world aver­age in South Korea (7 per­cent), Ja­pan (16 per­cent) and China (19 per­cent).

Even sci­en­tific mea­sure­ments of hap­pi­ness rely on sub­jec­tive views though, since dif­fer­ent things make dif­fer­ent peo­ple feel good in dif­fer­ing de­grees.

Men­tal health can be de­fined in many ways – the dic­tionary might ex­plain it as “the psy­cho­log­i­cal state of some­one who is func­tion­ing at a sat­is­fac­tory level of emo­tional and be­hav­ioral ad­just­ment,” while the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion de­scribes it as“a state of well-be­ing in which an in­di­vid­ual re­al­izes his or her own abil­i­ties, can cope with the nor­mal stresses of life, can work pro­duc­tively and is able to make a con­tri­bu­tion to his or her com­mu­nity.”

Ask a philoso­pher and they will take the con­cept fur­ther. An­to­nia Mac­aro, philo­soph­i­cal coun­selor and co-writer of The Shrink and The Sage col­umn in the Fi­nan­cial Times Week­end Mag­a­zine, says:“Of­ten, we equate men­tal well-be­ing with a feel­ing of hap­pi­ness, but I

think this‘hap­pi­ness as mood’ is over­rated in our so­ci­ety. There are other things that are more im­por­tant, like do­ing things we value and con­sider worth­while, and hav­ing mean­ing in our life.”

Mark Ver­non, author of Plato’s Podcasts: the An­cients’ Guide to Mod­ern Liv­ing, agrees hap­pi­ness is over­rated. “It comes and goes. If hap­pi­ness means feel­ing good, which is prob­a­bly the mod­ern idea that we have, it wasn’t re­ally the idea the an­cient Greeks had. The word that is of­ten trans­lated as hap­pi­ness, eu­dai­mo­nia, lit­er­ally means ‘good god­ed­ness,’ mean­ing a ca­pac­ity to live life well, like the gods.

“Some­times that will in­volve plea­sure, but some­times it will in­volve the ca­pac­ity to bear suf­fer­ing, but suf­fer­ing that can lead to bet­ter things. If you are a par­ent you will know that hav­ing chil­dren will bring you a lot of pain but it will also brings deep ful­fill­ment. Men­tal health comes about by an abil­ity to pay at­ten­tion to life, to your in­ner ex­pe­ri­ence and grad­u­ally sort through and pri­or­i­tize it in a way that makes you flour­ish.”

One mod­ern philoso­pher bring­ing the sub­ject into the main­stream is Alain de Bot­ton. His works in­clude A Week at Heathrow Air­port, a“med­i­ta­tion on travel, work, re­la­tion­ships and our daily lives,”and The Art of Travel, which asks how we can find ful­fill­ment from our trips abroad.

“Jour­neys are the mid­wives of thought,”he writes in the lat­ter.“Few places are more con­ducive to in­ter­nal con­ver­sa­tions than mov­ing planes, ships or trains. There is an al­most quaint cor­re­la­tion be­tween what is be­fore our eyes and the thoughts we are able to have in our heads: large thoughts at times re­quir­ing large views, and new thoughts, new places. In­tro­spec­tive re­flec­tions that might oth­er­wise be li­able to stall are helped along by the flow of the land­scape.”

Travel, it would seem, pro­vides an ex­cel­lent op­por­tu­nity for“be­ing philo­soph­i­cal,” and for the fre­quent flyer with many hours on a plane at his or her dis­posal, spend­ing time con­tem­plat­ing one’s own thoughts, or read­ing some­one else’s, may be highly ben­e­fi­cial. “Be­cause we are phys­i­cal be­ings,” Ver­non says, “be­ing on the way some­where can be a won­der­ful mo­ment to re­flect on where we are headed in the more metaphor­i­cal sense. So rather than reach­ing for the in-flight en­ter­tain­ment, you could do a med­i­ta­tive read­ing. Read re­flec­tively, slowly, al­low­ing it to sink in and your own thoughts and re­sponses to emerge.”

If you want some guid­ance in your quest, the Hap­pi­ness In­sti­tute in Syd­ney (traegerenter­prises.com/ life­coach­ing.htm) of­fers var­i­ous

‘Men­tal health comes about by an abil­ity to pay at­ten­tion

to your life’

pack­ages by the ex­ec­u­tive coach, Paul Dick­in­son, who has two decades’worth of coach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. The pack­ages in­clude a“Choose to be happy now”90-day on­line course that com­prises lessons on op­ti­mistic think­ing, qual­ity re­la­tion­ships and liv­ing in the mo­ment at $52, and a“Five ses­sion pack­age”of in­di­vid­ual coach­ing at $931 that fea­tures op­ti­mistic think­ing and bet­ter iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of one’s own strengths.

Non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion TED also has dozens of thought-pro­vok­ing lec­tures on

‘Love and work are the two fun­da­men­tal pil­lars of a sat­is­fied life’

the top­ics of phi­los­o­phy and hap­pi­ness at ted.com.

If you want some one-toone time with an in­di­vid­ual versed in the philo­soph­i­cal ap­proach, per­haps to en­gage you in So­cratic dia­logue (the pos­ing and an­swer­ing of ques­tions to stim­u­late crit­i­cal thought), you could make an ap­point­ment with a psy­chother­a­pist – some­thing de Bot­ton be­lieves should be in­cor­po­rated into ev­ery­one’s life, like a visit to the bar­ber.

A philo­soph­i­cal school of thought and method of ther­apy, ex­is­ten­tial psy­chother­apy looks at the in­ner con­flict aris­ing within peo­ple as a con­se­quence of their re­la­tion­ship with death, freedom, re­spon­si­bil­ity, iso­la­tion and life’s mean­ing. “By build­ing self-knowl­edge and self-aware­ness, clients are able to grow and con­quer is­sues which may at times feel all-con­sum­ing or over­whelm­ing,”writes Lon­don’s Har­ley Ther­apy on its web­site, harleyther­apy.co.uk.

Mac­aro, who is an ex­is­ten­tial ther­a­pist and philo­soph­i­cal coun­selor, says:“Phi­los­o­phy can help by giv­ing peo­ple tools to think more clearly about them­selves and the world, clar­i­fy­ing con­fu­sions and con­flict of val­ues.”How­ever, she adds that it could make things worse“by un­set­tling es­tab­lished ways of think­ing.”

Ver­non agrees:“The hu­man con­di­tion is of­ten about not know­ing, of be­com­ing con­scious that you will die, and this is deeply fright­en­ing. But un­less you are will­ing to go into the dark­ness and learn from it, rather than force it away, it tends to come back and haunt you.” De Bot­ton says:“Phi­los­o­phy can’t mirac­u­lously solve all our prob­lems but what it does urge us to do is to un­der­stand our­selves bet­ter and be­come bet­ter at work­ing out what re­la­tion­ships we should get into and what projects we should fo­cus on.

“Love and work are the two fun­da­men­tal pil­lars of a sat­is­fied life – and they only de­liver on their prom­ises if we take a lot of care in plan­ning how we’re go­ing to ap­proach them.” BT

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