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