A mishnah in Pirkei avos famously asks who is a rich, strong, and wise person. But the mishna’s cryptic. It doesn’t answer by telling you who the wisest or strongest or richest person is. It tells you a fact about the x___ person. Who is smart? Someone who learns from all people. Who is rich? Someone who is happy with what he has. Who is strong? Someone who can conquer his physical desires. I think the mishnah is there to keep you focused on your goal. Who’s wise? Here’s the perfect litmus test: Do you learn from all people? Why? Because your goal ISN’T to be smarter than other people. Your goal is to live a life of gaining wisdom. What makes you happy is that you are constantly growing and learning new things. If you don’t enjoy learning from other people who are lower than you on your totem pole, then your goal is simply to be better than other people. And that’s a doomed goal, because you are constantly chasing a happiness that has only the tiniest sliver of a percentage of ever coming true. And you probably had a Jewish mother.
Its the same with wealth and strength. There are real underlying values in all 3 of these. They just get corrupted and easily sidetracked when we compare ourselves to others. Why do you want to be strong? To feel in control. How can you be in control? By being stronger than others? By controlling or forcing other people to do what you want? No, that’s a sure way to end up a douchebag or hated or dead. Its by being in control of yourself. Nobody is in control of you but you. You don’t need anything or anyone. You are good by yourself. You can want and that’s cool, but not need so bad that you can’t control it.
And wealth is the most obvious one. Why do you really want to be wealthy? So that you can be happy. What your friends deem nice or fun is of no consequence as long as you are happy. So fuck everybody else. Focus on what you want.
Of course these are all nice to talk about and much harder to do in practice when we’re social creatures living in a superficially connected world where everyone’s facebook page is telling you all the cool things you should be doing which you’re missing out on and if only you did would make you happy, but at least these are benchmarks that we can read and come back to every once in a while to reconnect with those deep feelings of emptiness, confusion and despair.