Negative Visualization

One of the difficulties of being a perfectionist and a dreamer is that I often find myself discontent. Perhaps you find that you have the life you dreamed about only years ago. Solid job. Wife who puts up with you…and actually likes you! Children. Health.

And yet our culture is built on the notion that we are to constantly dream. Rather, I believe we ought to work harder to live in the present.

I am currently reading A Guide to the Good Life, by William Irvine. One of the qualities he encourages in order to cultivate happiness is negative visualization. That is, one of our problems is that we surely grow dissatisfied with what we have (or who we are!). What we need is not more stuff, but to work hard to enjoy the things we already have.

In order to do this, we ought to imagine that we have lost the things we have. Imagine you lose your wife. Your kids. Your health. Your life. This is not morbid but coheres with what Moses spoke about in Psalm 90 where he asks God to teach us to number our days so we might gain a heart of understanding. Notice it is a request that we number our days. What is more, there is a number to our days. Perhaps it is today. Lastly, we contemplate the finitude of our days so that we might rightly understand. Understand what? Ourselves and the world in which we live. You see, when you contemplate your mortality you begin to realize that the world does not revolve around you. That you do not have the answers to the world’s ailments.

Perhaps you can try this for the next 30 seconds. What is one thing you have right now? Now imagine your life without it.

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