Want a Meaningful Life? Learn to Control Your Mental Attitude | Luc Bovens

Life throws us curveballs that test our ability to cope, but perhaps none is more curvy than the end of life itself. Philosopher Luc Bovens examines the idea of secular hope, the forms it takes, and the function of it. He asks: what does it mean to live a meaningful life, and is it possible to die as well as you lived?

This video was filmed at the Los Angeles Hope Festival, a collaboration between Big Think and Hope & Optimism. For more on Luc Bovens, go here: http://www.bovens.org/

Read more at BigThink.com: http://bigthink.com/videos/luc-bovens-a-philosophical-guide-to-coping-with-life-death-and-sour-grapes

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Transcript: Well my name is Luc Bovens. I’m teaching at the London School of Economics and I’m actually going to make a move, I’m coming back to the States and I’ll take up a position at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on the first of January. And last year or last fall I was in the Hope and Optimism Project in Cornell University and I was very excited to be part of this because I’m currently working on a book project. The book is called ‘Coping: A Philosophical Guide’. So what I would like to do is actually bring out a lot of the work that I’ve been doing in moral psychology over the last 20 years and to put it in a format that is accessible to the public, to the general public.

And so the main idea of the book project is the following—well, let me start with this: there is this well-worn prayer of Niebuhr and it says that, ‘God gave us the courage to change what we can change, and the serenity to accept what we can’t change, and the wisdom to know the difference between the two.’

And I think this is actually a false dichotomy, because there is something in between accepting the things that we can’t change and changing the things that we are able to change; having the courage to change the things that we are able to change. And what comes in between actually is precisely sort of having a kind of control over the mind. And now hoping is exactly the sort of thing that fits in the space in between courage and serenity.

You’re not changing the world and you’re not just merely accepting things. You’re developing some kind of attitude of coping with hardships, and that’s precisely, I think, what this hoping is all about. Now I think hoping is actually just one of the things that fits in the space between this courage and serenity.

Another thing that I’ve been exploring over the years is what’s often called sour grapes, right. Now sour grapes has a little bit of a bad rap but if you think about it, what you’re really doing—or what the fox is doing when he can’t reach for the grapes, and he turns his back and he says, “Oh, those grapes are sour,”—you can interpret this in many ways and actually when you think of this fable, it’s been written and rewritten in many ways. It may be the case that the fox just says, “Look, you know, these grapes are not ripe yet.” Then he’s actually changing his beliefs in order to deal with his frustration.

But in other versions he actually says, “Look, I don’t really like grapes,” so it seems like he’s changing his taste. He’s changing his desires. That’s a different thing. And then the third thing that the fox might be doing is he says, “Oh, you know, grapes are really for the lowlife animals in the woods.” Then he’s kind of framing the whole thing. So often I think when we’re trying to deal with hardships in life, we’re changing our beliefs, we’re changing our desires or we frame things differently. And depending on what you’re doing, these things are either more or less problematic. I think people often have problems with changing your beliefs at will. Whereas changing the frame with which you look at things in order to make things more acceptable, that seems to be a perfectly alright thing to do.

I mean at one point, actually going back to Marcus Aurelius’ ‘Meditations’—see Marcus Aurelius had this history of spending a lot of time with soldiers in barracks where, really, where he wanted to be was in Rome, hanging out with people in high society. But he says, ‘Look, when you find yourself in a situation like that you have to come to love the people with whom your fate is cast. And you have to love them truly.’

So the idea is he changes his desires. He changes the way that he frames the situation in order to make it acceptable to him. And again that’s a form of coping.



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