Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Living on 24 Hours per Day

This post is inspired by Arnold Bennett's 1910 book "How to Live on 24 Hours a Day." You can get the book for free online. It's a very short book, taking less than an hour to read. While it's short, it offers a very interesting structure for 'living' as opposed to 'vegetating.' In saying 'living' Bennett means mental development and involvement in the world, with a goal of happiness in one's own life. In this post, I'm going to break down Bennett's program into a simple plan and add in some of my own thoughts on the plan.

Bennett's general program is to take 30 minutes every morning, six days per week, and 90 minutes every other evening, and use that time to read (evening) and reflect (morning). The trick is to make the reading something mentally straining, that requires some exercise of the mental faculty. Bennett discusses several different categories that one might read, but leaves the subject open to the individual pursuing the program of reading & reflection. Bennett acknowledges sequestering 7.5 hours per week involves sacrifice, but also claims it is necessary and worthwhile to live an engaged life.

The steps as I see them (arranged to balance ease & importance).

1) Find 30 minutes in the morning to reflect.

     Reflection means concentrating the mind on a topic and thinking deeply and carefully about the topic. Concentration is quite difficult, and if one is not accustomed to it then it will take time to build this skill. To assist in developing the skill, I would suggest mindfulness meditation (as opposed to mediation for relaxation).

     I understand it may be difficult to find this time. If you work at a day job, morning is often a hectic mess to fly out the door to get to work on time. I suggest trying to rework your morning so that it's calmer. At any rate, public transportation can be an ideal time for reflection. One turns inward, and ignores surroundings, during a period of reflection. Personally I walk to work, so that's not ideal for reflection. But if one takes the train, for example, or a commuter coach, I can think of no better time for reflection.

     If the ride to work is not a good time for reflection, then you have to carve some time out of your morning routine. This might involve getting up 30 minutes earlier than is currently the case, or sacrificing something you are doing in the morning. This is important, because without the period of reflection, you will gain little benefit from the all the reading you will do, and your mind will not grow. The result? You'll be stuck right where you find yourself, without moving closer to a happy, fulfilled life.

2) Find 90 minutes every other night to read.

     Bennett recommends sequestering more than 90 minutes, because if one will read something difficult for a total of 90 minutes, one has to allow for potential distractions. As mentioned earlier, one should chose something that stretches the mind, but it should also be an area of one's interest. Being a specialist in an area is a source of great joy.

     When just starting on the program, one shouldn't set too ambitious of a goal. If you are interested in philosophy, for example, don't try to tackle Kant straight off. Start with some introductory reviews, and then get to the more complex material once you've laid a foundation. Otherwise, you may find the reading too onerous and give up.

     As one is reading, one should be tuned in for anything that gives some indication of cause and effect relationships in the world. The ability to discern cause and effect in the world will go a long way to help alleviate the view that the world is somehow capricious or simply a series of accidents. In Bennett's words, understanding cause and effect will lead one to become "large headed and large hearted."

These first two steps are sufficient for the first three months. As time progresses, more time may be spent reading, or more days. Also, the difficulty of reading may be increased as one's mind becomes more trained. The next steps are really just advanced versions of these two basic steps.

3) Reflect on happiness, the direction of your life, what life is giving you, and the relationship between principles & conduct.

     Bennett asserts that happiness comes from development of reason and the adjustment of conduct to principles. Just what those principles are may come from reflection, or one's own background, or what have you. At any rate, use the reflecting time to dwell on your principles and determine whether or not your conduct is consistent with your principles. As time passes, use your reason to align your conduct with your principles, and you will find happiness. This is much more desirable than letting instinct guide actions, which is far more common.

     One may also expand the reflecting period beyond just the morning time to the evening, on the way home from work. This seems to me a good time to think about one's conduct during the day.

4) Suggested reading topics.

      If you are not sure what to read, Bennett offers some suggestions. His primary suggestion is poetry. From my own experience with poetry, I agree with Bennett. I especially like Kipling, Whitman, Frost, and Service. But poetry is taxing to the brain, and takes a fair bit of thought to understand what the poet is trying to say, which makes is more desirable for the task of expanding one's mind than prose.

     I personally suggest all people to obtain some understanding of economics. Begin with Hazlitt's "Economics in One Lesson" and then move on to Rothbard & Mises. This, in my view, is an excellent method of understanding the cause & effect of the world. Bennett also recommends Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus. But this, in the final reckoning, is the reader's choice.

The idea behind this program is to live a happier, more fulfilled life. One that is more thoughtful, more deliberate, than the one you might be living. But of course, if you are already happy and fulfilled and aren't doing something like this program, then please let us know your secret in the comments section!

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