“Listen to your heart“ is quite a common advice on finding your own path of fulfillment in life. Living authentically, of course, is quite an important factor in living a good life, as carrying out one‘s truest and deepest desires of thy hearts can be quite fulfilling, or something of that sort. After this detailed and rigorous discussion we now have the most important part of our life figured out, only the details remain to be cleared up – what does it really mean to follow your heart?
THE TYPES OF HEART TO FOLLOW
On the one end of the spectrum, there’s emotion. We, humans, are an impulsive bunch of creatures. Merely smelling a juicy, chocolate-covered doughnut at the entrance of the supermarket can push us to buy two glorious calorie-filled doughnuts and eat them LITERALLY AS SOON AS YOU WALK OUT OF THE STORE. Or when you see that your most beloved chocolate is 50% for only the next two days, you must stack up on it, if only just this once. The heart wants what it wants, as the ancient proverb goes. However, this approach is deeply problematic, as, for example, undoubtedly a short-tempered serial killer has an urge to kill every other person he passes through on the street, though that surely doesn‘t mean that living a great life means succumbing to those impulses. On the other hand, ignoring your emotion completely can lead to a life of dullness and boredom, as if we don’t listen to our needs, we are much more prone to being manipulated by other people or surrendering to the unhealthy standards of our society, hence giving up an authentic life for the opposite of that – a life of slavery.
After that we can go even further than emotion and look into the deepest, darkest desires of our hearts (Yes, like the mirror in Harry Potter). Say a person values their intelligence above everything else –throughout their youth they’ve been told how talented and smart they are, and eventually this person began to internalise this voice and made it of their own. In turn, this person starts looking for validation of his intellect by looking for people to admire at his problem solving skills, his mastery over difficult material and his ability to communicate complex topics to all the regular Joes of the world. Should this person “listen to their heart” and continue seeking confirmation from the surroundings? That sort of search for approval might be as beneficial as it can be unhealthy, and is highly dependent on how the acceptance-seeker chooses to achieve his aim. He can either truly invest a lot of time and energy to obtain true mastery of the material, which would in all likelihood turn out pretty well for their life satisfaction, or, he could try to fake his way through with clever tricks and slides of hand. For example, deliberately not studying for a test and barely passing to avoid hard work meant for “less intelligent people” could be one of such deceits. Legitimately smart people just “get” things without the effort, or so he says to himself at night. This way he preserves the illusion of brilliance and in some twisted way receives the validation he so desperately yearns for. These two completely different approaches to seeking acceptance will have equally different results for their respective individuals – the first one in a more constructive way, vice versa for the second one.
Lastly, there’s the good old fashioned military way of doing business and completely getting rid of our needs and wants and other similar type of nonsense. Forget not feeling like studying today, you have a test tomorrow, so you will force yourself to study, because that’s the rational thing to do. You want to watch another episode of Lost but have to get up early tomorrow to go to the gym? Screw Netflix, today we go to sleep at 10 pm. You desperately crave that chocolate bar you bought yesterday with 50% off? Throw it out the window, put some apples in your face and off you go to study some statistics. This certainly is a great approach if you are absolutely certain of the benefits of the action you’re about to force down your very own throat. Any strongly-engrained habit (smoking, drinking and such) is really hard to get rid of without the self-discipline and willpower to help you along the way. On the other hand, this sort of thing is incredibly hard to execute as you have to go against your every molecule screaming that it’s the wrong way to go. Furthermore, listening to only your rational side has another great disadvantage, which is that it’s not always clear what it means to be rational in the first place. Does being rational mean taking as little risks as possible (becoming a doctor instead of an artist, for example)? What about chasing money, or listening to your parents, or buying a house instead of renting? All of these decisions can be as rational or as irrational as you make them be. Moreover, the definition of rationality can change with regards to what is important to the person – if Billy values being entertained more than being rested, it becomes at least a little bit rational to pull an all-nighter to finish watching season 2 of the Sopranos. Confusingly enough, in some cases acting logically means listening to your impulses and quitting your prestigious and high-paying job because you haven’t felt alive in 10 years. Rationality is not something you can just read a Wikipedia article about and know for sure what it is – like most things in life it’s slippery, weird and smells differently for different people (to me it smells like Greek yoghurt).
GOTTA CATCH THEM ALL
To truly live authentically you need to combine all of these three elements into one massive chunk of what-the-hell-you-wanna-do-ness (also known as WTHYWDNESS). Start with listening to your heart – don’t become a doctor if you want to be an architect just because your parents told you to, yet don’t chase a career of a professional Pokemon trainer either. Be rational with your choices, but don’t forget to let your emotion guide you towards the correct-ish path. If logic says that being the best like no one ever was Pokemon trainer is not a viable career path, what about… a dog trainer, or a writer, or an animation producer? It doesn’t matter that it’s not 100% absolutely very perfect and that’s not how you imagined your life to look at all – world is messy and uncertain and oftentimes likes kicking you in the face on the weirdest of occasions, so take it at face value. In the end, it’s important to do one’s best to distinguish between the voices of your own and those of your surroundings. Though it’s not often clear which one is which, somewhere deep, deep down, in the thing which named itself your mind, you’ll know. And if you don’t, that’s a type of knowing too. I think?