[All the Living Morally articles are: “Must Choose,” “Own Mind,” “Must Learn,” “Must Think,” “Be One’s Best,” “Must Work,” “Be Free,” “Right Relationships,” “Mind Own Business,” “Self Defence.” Links will be added as articles are published.]

This article continues the discussion of the practical application of the ten moral principles described in the article, Principles to every day life and the advantages of living by those principles.

Moral Principles Are Practical

Moral principles are reality based. They are determined by the reality of physical existence and our own natures as human beings. The purpose of those principles is to guide our choices and actions to achieve success as human beings and to be all we can be. The ultimate purpose of moral principle is the enjoyment of our lives.

Must Think

The principles article described this principle this way: “Every individual has the ability to think and reason well enough to make right choices about everything they do. Every individual must use their ability to reason about everything they believe, think, choose, and do ….”

As I explained in the “Must Learn,” moral principles are not commandments. The are the description of the relationship between one’s choices and actions and real consequences. The must think principle means if you want your life to be a success and want to enjoy it to the fullest, you must think.

Why Thinking Is So Damn Important

In the two articles, “Two Moral Principles: Knowledge and Reason,” and, “Correct Thinking: Basic Principles Of Clear Reasoning,” as well as the previous article in this series, the necessity of knowledge is emphasized, because knowledge is all there is to think with and all there is to think about. But knowledge is useless for anything if it is not used to think.

Since everything we do as human beings we must consciously choose to do, and since our lives consists of what we do, how we choose and what we choose determines everything else in our lives. It is the nature of human consciousness that makes choice necessary, it is that same nature that makes thinking necessary, because thinking is the only means you have for deciding what choices to make.

Previous articles have emphasized the absolute necessity of correct thinking if one chooses to live successfully and happily in this world. This article will emphasize the necessity of thinking, especially to one’s enjoyment of and satisfaction with life.

Thinking Hard

The problem is never that people don’t think, it is impossible to live without thinking. Everybody thinks, but most thinking is shallow. Most people only think about what is easy to think, what they are accustomed to thinking and about the same as everybody else thinks. Most people dislike thinking that is hard, that requires them any real mental effort. A very common expression is, “I don’t want to think about that, it makes my head hurt.”

Unfortunately for those whose thinking is mostly the shallow easy kind, that kind of thinking cannot possibly deal with any question or issue of real importance or significance. If you want to succeed it is going to be necessary to do some hard thinking that requires attention both to what is being thought and how one is thinking about it.

In reality, hard thinking is not really that hard, it just takes more time and more diligence in making sure one does not make mistakes in their thinking, that they are not ignoring contradictions or allowing just anything to affect their thinking. In the end, poor thinking is really just lazy thinking.

The Trouble With Lazy Thinking

Most of the things people do that get them in trouble are things they chose to do without thinking or thinking very little about. In some cases, people just don’t know how to think any better than they do, but since I’ve already addressed that in “Correct Thinking: Basic Principles Of Clear Reasoning,” I’ll concentrate here on the kind of lazy or poor thinking that gets us in trouble. The most common mistake in our thinking that leads to poor choices is not taking a long view.

There is an old saying, “Don’t sacrifice the future on the alter of the immediate.” That unfortunately is exactly what most of us have done when we make wrong choices. It’s harder to think about the long-term consequences of the choices we make. Its easier to only consider what we want and think we’ll enjoy right now, than to worry about what will happen next week, next year, or even a decade or two from now because of what we choose to do or not do today.

Temptations To The Short View

The main temptation to take the short view is because it is easier, less troublesome. Who wants to worry about the future. After all we live in the present. “Eat drink and be merry because tomorrow we may be dead.” Unfortunately it is much more likely we won’t be dead, and we will very much dislike the bill for yesterdays debauchery, and we quickly discover the price of immediate satisfaction is much higher than the pleasure was worth.

There are other temptations, as well, and a very common but unrecognized one I’ll call the deception of natural assets. It is experienced by those whose natural talents, abilities, and personal characteristics make things come easy to them. The bright child for whom learning is almost effortless and good grades require little conscious effort easily develops the belief that all of life is easy and requires little effort, so easy in fact that it becomes difficult for the child to be convinced there is any reason to, “worry about the future.”

The naturally attractive and personable young woman to whom almost everything she wants seems to fall into her lap with no planning or particular effort is easily convinced that she does not need to think that much about the future. She’s sure she’ll be able to handle anything comes along with her charming smile and sweet words.

The natural assets such individuals enjoy are real assets. It’s wonderful if some things in life are easier. There is no virtue in difficulty itself (though difficulty should never be an excuse for not doing what is right or important). Whatever an individual’s nature abilities and assets are that make some things easy for them, especially while young, can easily convince them that life itself is easy, that nothing should take too much effort.

Fortunately that, “life is easy,” attitude is also easily cured, especially when the first real life difficulty comes along or they have their first big problem because they did not think and trusted in their natural assets and “luck” to be enough. Not all are cured, however, and some end up wasting a life of tremendous potential because they refuse to learn that a successful life is not easy and one must think about the consequences of their choices.

The point is that even those things that might seem like unfair advantages are not advantages. Everyone is born with totally different “advantages” and “disadvantages.” Those are never the things that determine an individual’s success or happiness. It is what one does with whatever reality has provided. Everyone has a mind and no matter what they start with, it is how they choose to use their mind, whether or not they choose to think or not, that will ultimately determine who and what they are and their success or failure.

Failures Of The Short View

If you think about the kinds of trouble people get into, most of them are the consequence of taking the short view.

A great deal of what is called culture in our modern world is nothing more than an epidemic of short sightedness caused by a popular fascination with the immediate—immediate gratification of every desire and impulse with no thought at all to long-term consequences. Everything from popular styles, like tattoos and piercings, to sexual practices, to squandering of one’s wealth, health, and abilities (like not learning all one can while one is able) because no one considers the inevitable consequences. It is why each generation becomes more cynical about the possibility of success and happiness and why regret and despair are so prominent in the lives of anyone past middle age, if they make it that far.

Debt is a great problem for many people. No one intends to become so deep in debt there is little or no hope of ever getting out, with nothing in their future except bill collectors and bankruptcy. When they borrow money or buy things on credit, they intend, and probably believe, they’ll pay it all back. How they are going to pay it back is never in their immediate thoughts, all their thoughts are about having whatever the credit or borrowed money is going to provide them right now. Except in those rare cases when some unpredictable disaster makes someone lose their income, almost all catastrophic debt is because individuals or couples do not take the long view and do the hard thinking about their realistic ability to pay their future debts and what new bills would mean to their near and long-term future. Some of the long-term things too few consider are the realistic possibility of future costs and expenses, (medical bills, fires, stolen property, maintenance and repairs, and the incredible cost of children) as well as possible loss of income (from changes in the economy, unexpected unemployment, business failures, and disabling disease or accident) that must always be planned for.

Spontaneity can be good ability for one who is an entertainer or conversationalist, but one must really know when spontaneity is appropriate, and when it isn’t. In most cases spontaneous behavior is devastating, because it is acting on one’s immediate feelings and impressions without considering the consequences of those actions. The angry outburst in a business meeting or the bitter words (or worse) one uses without thinking because they feel slighted, insulted, cheated, unappreciated or unrecognized always cost more than whatever the perceived wrong is worth. The cost of not considering the consequences can be anything from the loss of a job to the loss of a loved one. There is a simple solution, though difficult to implement. To keep from ruining one’s life and future there is one solution that must be implemented: think hard before you act, always and every time. After a while it becomes a habit, perhaps the most valuable habit one can have.

Advantages Of The Long View

It is obvious that taking the long view, considering the consequences of one’s choices both short and long term, would save most of us unnecessary regret and problems, just as in the examples provided in the previous section. But there is another very important advantage of taking the long view in our thinking, especially about the possible and inevitable in life.

Some disappointment and some unexpected tragedy is inevitable in everyone’s life. The realistic recognition of that fact and doing the hard thinking about how one will deal with those very real aspects of life is the only way to be prepared for those things and able to deal with them without being personally devastated. Loved one’s die, children die (perhaps one of the most difficult of events in life), friends and relatives disappoint or betray us, jobs are lost (no matter how secure one believes they might be), accident and disease are always possibilities.

No one likes to think about such things, because they are unpleasant. It is easier, at the moment, to just ignore such possibilities. There is another old saying, “don’t borrow trouble,” and another, “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” There is a difference between preparing for the possibility of evil and allowing such possibilities to dominate one’s present view of life. If one denies, or simply does not admit, the possibility of future tragedy and is totally unprepared for them, when they occur, and they will, they will be devastated and be totally unprepared to deal with them.

Early in our marriage, my wife said the one thing she could not bear, is if anything happened to one of our children. When we talked about it I explained that something could happen to one of the children, and if it did, we would have to go on. If something did happen she was totally unprepared for, she would have no idea how to handle the situation. But she would want to handle it, because of the other children, because of our own life, and because she would never just give up. If something like that should happen, when it happens is the wrong time to try to think about what to do or how to deal with it, the time to think about it is when you are free of the emotions that will overwhelm you if you wait for the event to happen.

We did talk about what we would do. We agreed, nothing could possibly diminish the grief and sorrow of such an event, and shouldn’t, because those feelings would be perfectly appropriate and should not be resisted. But the feelings would not be permanent. One must go on living, and they way to deal with tragedy is to admit its importance, but recognize no tragedy is the end of life, only the end of an aspect of it.

One fact about feelings is, their intensity is always a reflection of the degree to which our minds and thoughts are dominated by their cause, but that domination always diminishes, because the process of living fills our thoughts with the concerns and events of the present, and the intense emotional experience becomes less and less as the importance of our present life, concerns, and loves fill our thoughts more and more.

The emotions of grief will never completely go away, but they change. We feel them less with time, but whenever we think about that tragedy, there will always be those feelings, but they become softened as the memories concentrate more on the joy and pleasure that was lost and less on the loss itself. Instead of the maddening, “unfairness,” of the event that took something away from us, we concentrate more on the joy and pleasure we had with the one we loved.

You might wonder how I can be so sure this is the right way to think about the future. I know it because the experience I described is one I’ve actually had. My wife and I lost our oldest son to cardiomyopathy when he was twenty six. There was no way to diminish the grief, but both my wife and I were able to deal with the tragedy, because we had already prepared ourselves and thought about how we would deal with it. Some years later, my wife said to me along these lines: if you had not talked to me about what I would do if anything happened to the children, if you had not made me be realistic about the possibility, I don’t think I could have made it. There is no way you can be prepared for it, but at least it was not a total shock, because you helped me understand, to expect anything never to happen is unrealistic. It didn’t make anything easier, it just made me strong enough to bear the grief, and know that I could go on.

We did go on, and as sad a tragedy the death of our son was, it has become one of those things in the life of two people in love that strengthened our love and happiness because we overcame, together, a major trial of life and love.

Think For Emotional Well Being

Our feelings are determined primarily by what we believe and think. In my earlier article, “Feelings,” and the two even earlier technical articles on the nature of emotions, “Introduction to the Nature of Emotions,” and, “Desires,” I explained the psychological and physical nature of feelings, emotions, and desires and how it is our thinking and beliefs that determine them.

The only point I want to make here is that if one desires their emotions to be a source of joy, confidence, and well-being, and not a source of misery, anxiety, and torment, they must think and think as well as they possibly can. If one’s thinking is confused, their emotions will be confused. If they allow their thinking to drift and dwell on things that are unrealistic their feelings will be unrealistic. If their thoughts are dominated with ideas of doing or having what is wrong their feelings will be dominated by desires and passions for those same things, and they will cry in their despair, “I don’t know why I have these demons that drive me to do these self-destructive things, but the only demons are those their own thinking has created.

The only way to have a life that achieves true happiness is to have a life directed by your own best possible thinking that evaluates all choices in terms of consequences both short term and long term, that identifies what one really wants to achieve and be and then chooses to do the work to achieve it. Think about it.