Capable Capable
Capable Capable

Central to happiness is living your life as the real thing
Arnold Siegel —January 1, 2023

January 1, 2023. Here we are in the New Year. We look to find our happiness in it. Afterall, we have the freedom to pursue happiness. Yet everyone knows how elusive it is. Despite our efforts, its means escape us. Why? Is there a central factor, a perennial undermining cause? The answer is yes. We harbor a fateful condition wherein we identify with a self-image of who we are not. A 40-year study has led us to this observation of our inauthentic practice and how to correct it. 

Here is the rub. Our happiness depends on revealing ourselves as who we really are. To pretend to be other than who we are is to court unhappiness. When we operate as who we are not, we focus our energy on satisfying our desire for our act to be admired instead of on revealing who we really are. Wrongheadedly, we believe that being admired for our act of pretension is the key to our happiness. That is, we are likely to seek the solution to our unhappiness, our insecurity and the instability of our minds and behavior by choosing to fulfill our desire to be admired for who we are not over more prudent considerations.

Whether we are fully conscious of what we are doing, when we choose to present ourselves to ourselves and to another as who we are not, we wind up with a lifetime of running the fool’s errand. We endlessly look to satisfy our need to be admired for who we are not, and are ongoingly preoccupied with disturbing thoughts and feelings, among them failure, anger, regret, resentment, guilt, and not least, shame. Our system is taken over by negative mind-sets and emotions, and we live in the shame of this affliction. We have the sense of not being whole. Our harmony is off. Our balance is off. Thus, enjoying fulfillment, equanimity, satisfaction and happiness is forever fleeting. Alienation, instability and insecurity interrupt our effort to master the ability to know and accept who we are.

The desire to resolve the dilemma of unhappiness leads us to our philosophy. Normally, we don’t turn to a philosophy to solve this problem. That is, typically we turn elsewhere (to buying, running, rationalizing, etc.) to transcend our frustration over the absence of admiration for who we are not. But if we are to find happiness, we must begin by reorganizing our nature to accept a performative arrangement holding the promise of happiness. 

Seeking admiration is not a problem in and of itself. The desire to be admired may be an innate trait. We can contextualize it positively, i.e., as leading us to better lives, advancing family, friendship, and intimacy and extending the nature of these relationships to the benefit of our civilization. But to seek admiration while we identify with who we are not is often made at the expense of integrity, efficacy and stability. We can fix this.

We conclude that we should admire ourselves for the honorable way in which we sought happiness before we seek to be admired by others. Specifically, we should seek to admire ourselves for embracing the authentic pathway to self-possession. Admiration from others won’t yield happiness if we insist on being who we are not. The truth: our happiness requires that we admire ourselves for our virtuous intent to live as the real thing.

We should admire ourselves for our sincere and authentic performance as autonomy’s author even as we process our independent agency, moral personage, entrepreneurial autobiography, deliberative judgment, and progressive originality. We must succeed with the paradigmatic transition to fully human selfhood and transform our nature to respond to an unprecedented order of autonomy. That is, autonomy’s author is required to embody America’s principled infrastructure to regulate its freedom. These first principles (regarding independence, morality, entrepreneurship, deliberation, and progressiveness) are operative whether we intra- or intersubjectively give voice to or realize ourselves as agents, persons or autobiographers.

The free individual constituting itself as its autonomy’s author is responsible for its life-long journey of participation in the American experiment. In so doing, we take up the virtuously intentional practice of living the philosophic life of fully human selfhood. We accept the challenge to be in possession of ourselves. We accept ourselves as the free individual constituting itself as its autonomy’s author, and we recognize that our lives are created in our authorship. Authoring our autonomy through referencing its first principles allows us to live as the real thing. 

Our opening for happiness is our recognition of a behavioral sequence whose performative dynamics must be mastered. Our happiness is a function of achieving the integrity of self-possession and our ability to adhere to its principled infrastructure. Self-possession is the antidote to alienation. In other words, as long as we operate as who we are not, we will experience alienation from ourselves, from others and from the world in which we dwell. 

There is a simplicity, an elegance, a deep and lasting happiness we experience when we identify self-possession with the free individual living as the author of its autonomy and when we identify our responsibility for our authorship with principled agency, personage, autobiography, judgment and originality. 

And so it is that we look optimistically to the new year even as we face the inescapable challenge of the free individual constituting itself as its autonomy’s author. We bind ourselves newly to be faithful to our philosophy and to be the keeper of our integrity. It is with humility and gratitude for the existential and material privileges that have brought us to this opportunity, that we look to the new year resolute in our commitment to courageously living life as the real thing. We understand that our happiness depends on it. 

Arnold Siegel is the founder of Autonomy and Life and the leader of its
Workshops and Advanced Classes.