I’ve been trying to stay positive during 2013. As the year goes on and responsibilities pile up, it’s easy to lose focus. It often seems to me that all of my efforts come to nothing; I can’t see a change so I get disheartened.
But that’s silly.
We should think our meaningful thoughts, and work towards developing those thoughts and ideals, rather than only seeing the impervious nature of the world.
“My third maxim was always to try to conquer myself rather than fortune, and to change my desires rather than the order of the world, and generally to accustom myself to believing that there is nothing that is completely within our power except for our thoughts… And this alone seemed to me sufficient to prevent me in the future from desiring anything but what I was to acquire, and thus to make me contented.”
This is a quote from Descartes’ Discourse on Method. In particular I am using the Cress translation, Fourth Edition. (Pages 14-15)
But what does this mean?
Or maybe I should be more specific: what does this say to us, modern readers, not looking for philosophic enlightenment but for some good advice for day to day life.
The Quote Means:
What I think won’t change reality. Sometimes, not even my best efforts will change reality.
So I should think to fit reality. Think positively. Appreciate my mind.
I should accept that fortune won’t always be in my favor. Rather than worry about luck, I develop my mind. I accept the small effect that I can have on world so that I can be content.
Why is this what I believe about this quote?
Descartes was a major philosopher of his time. He lit a major spark in the fire of reason that spread over Europe a few decades after the publication of his Discourse on Method.
But Descartes was treading carefully while writing the Discourse. He admits in the text that he was frightened to publish his work, for fear of the church’s repercussions Descartes didn’t see the change that was coming to the church and monarchy nor could he see the effect that his thoughts would have on the world.
He could have been disheartened by the world around him, given up. Easily, he could have given up his new method of thought since he didn’t see it changing anything.
Instead, he wrote in private and focused on developing his theories. His philosophy caused major change!
Everyday, we are focused on the concerns of tomorrow. If we’re lucky, we can look to the end of the month, maybe even the end of the year.
But it’s difficult to stay calm while balancing these worries.
If you’re not calm, you can’t think. You can’t come up with any great ideas or innovations.
Moral of the Story
Read Descartes; improve your perspective.
Conquer your mind for positivity. The rest of the world is sure to follow.