A few years ago, while meeting with a psychiatrist to talk about my depression and anxiety, I was told to quit studying philosophy if I wanted to be happy.
According to him, studying philosophy was leading me to overthink even more than I’m naturally inclined to, and I was using it as an escape from my real life. Which, to be fair, was a pretty apt interpretation of how I was living at that time.
When I first started seriously studying philosophy (beyond reading it to look cool or seem more sophisticated which, if you can believe, I did in high school), I thought that I would find some real answers.
I figured that, in the grand depth of knowledge extending from Heraclitus to Habermas, someone had found a dictum detailing the way to happiness. I genuinely thought that there would be something true and meaningful that I could use to guide my life. A universal principle that made complete sense.
Naturally, I was wrong. I just didn’t know it at the time, and I thought that my psychiatrist was being an ass by telling me not to study the one thing that I needed to find an answer.
It’s taken me until recently to realize that he didn’t mean for me to quit studying it forever, just to quit studying it the way that I had been.
It was pointless to blindly trust these universal principles projected by people who were still trapped in their own time, with their own prejudices. There isn’t one person who holds the truth in their hands.
It took me until only recently to discover that the meaning I had been searching for won’t come from a single thinker. It comes from all the thinkers that I read, all the people I meet, all the stories I hear.
It’s about making a collage of meaningful statements from different thinkers and cobbling them together into my own understanding that I could get at a truth for myself. As trite as I think this statement is, we are all unique individuals. This means that we all have our own unique truths to take into our lives.
The real meaning comes from our ability to choose. I was definitely overthinking things back then, taking myself and everything else too seriously and not playing around with the particles of philosophy I’d picked up with every essay, book and treatise I’d read.
I’m not writing this because I think it’s a brand new idea. It’s not some fantastic discovery that I’ve stumbled upon while spending too much time with tomes. It’s just a little thing I learned about myself throughout my time studying philosophy, thinkers who tried to get at some deep truth about the fuzziest of things, like art, being and ethics.
I was naïve when I started out learning. Right now, I don’t think that I’m anywhere near as naïve. I’m probably still clutching too tightly to whatever truths I’ve found, and I’ll probably realize that in a few years when I look back on how I am now.
But that’s just life. My truths change with time. I’m still struggling with being happy and not overthinking things. Philosophy is helping me through this journey because I’m not staying still with whatever one truth I may have at a certain time.
If I had quit studying philosophy then, even at the recommendation of a licensed professional, I never would have come to this point in my life. I never would have learned the things I have, and I certainly wouldn’t be thinking the things that I am. They may cause me distress at times, but they also bring comfort.
To paraphrase some Italian Futurist I can’t remember the name of, it’s better to change your ideas like your clothes. You don’t want to wind up smelling too funky.