The Wisdom of Insecurity penned by Alan Watts in 1951 brings forth the irony of modern life – that the pursuit of material happiness only leads to anxiety. Human beings are forgetting the purpose and the true pleasure of living in the present by dwelling in the mistakes of the past and the uncertainty of the future.

As the age of consumerism reaches its peak, we are further away from the simple pleasures of life. We are lacking purpose and our lives aren’t fulfilling anymore. The book discusses 5 ways to live a better and more meaningful life.

1. Religion Helps People Feel Fulfillment

The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts

Religion, or rather the moral beliefs and practices that come with it, can have a grounding effect. The reassurance of an afterlife that guides a person to lead a virtuous life gives a sense of fulfilment. As the influence of organized religion declines, and as people move further away from religion, there is a gaping void left.

This widening gap leads people to look for instant gratification from addictive behaviours like drugs and alcohol to make up for the lack of purpose or meaning in life. 

2. Consumerism Is Just a Dangling Carrot

With consumerism, the chase for gratification never ends. We keep looking for happiness in materialistic gains which never leads to fulfilment. While almost everyone in the Westernized society is constantly fighting to achieve their materialistic goals, very few understand that these are mere empty pursuits, only adding to the vicious cycle of wanting more.

Consumerism is the proverbial dangling carrot that only adds to one’s anxieties, leaving them with a feeling of constant discontent. 

3. Pain and Pleasure are Two Sides of the Same Coin

Everyone wants to lead a happy and fulfilled life. At the same time, no one wants to experience tribulations. They spend their lives worrying about how to make it all easy and make the pain go away.

It is essential to realize that pain and pleasure are two sides of the same coin. Without experiencing the painful moments of life and without facing tribulations, one cannot truly savour the satisfaction of happy times. Similarly, experiencing happiness gives us the motivation to go through the painful times in life, because we know that there will be joy ahead. 

We must simply stop looking at pain and pleasure as negative or positive emotions and understand that both are a necessary part of life. We should move towards a perspective where we do not worry about avoiding the pain.

4. Living In the Present

We tend to either live in the past or the future, worrying about the things (especially the bad) that happened to us or about the things that we want in the future and how to get them. By doing this, we forget to live in the present. We deny and resist the experiences that we are living in now making it worse for ourselves.

Our brain is wired to want to react to the emotions that we experience. Therefore dwelling on the pain of the past or worry of the future is natural. However, the trick is to stop acting impulsively in the face of emotions and experience them fully without judgment. That will keep us from worrying about them. At times, accepting the present and moving on is the solution.

5. Listen To Your Body

The constant overthinking that our brain does cheats us of other experiences that our body and our subconscious has to offer. A person’s full potential to lead a holistic life is defined by all these experiences and not only one. We have to slow down our constant thought processes.

We tend to ignore the vital signs our bodies give us. We are often so disturbed and worried about our past and future that our sleeping patterns get affected. This is when our subconscious is working for us. This is the present that we need to pay attention to. We need to get out of our heads and let the natural and subconscious parts of our body (sleep, daydreaming, rest) do their magic.

Pain and Pleasure

Key Message

Our material pursuits only offer temporary gratification. Chasing after these will only lead us into the vicious cycle of wanting more and bringing us pain. Additionally, it is futile to keep focusing on the pain of the past and the anxiety of the future. We must accept that these insecurities are part of our life and focus on the present. Experiencing them will only enrich our lives. Life is never certain or safe, no matter how much we want it to be. Instead of focussing on that, we should focus on what is in our control and let everything else play out on its own.