Plenty of reason for doubt, anger and sadness

All of us — whatever our natural serotonin level — look around us and see plenty of reason for doubt, anger and sadness. A child dies, a woman is abused, a schoolyard becomes a killing field, a typhoon sweeps away the innocent. If we knew or felt the whole of human suffering, we would drown in despair. By all objective evidence, we are arrogant animals, headed for the extinction that is the way of all things. We imagine that we are like gods, and still drop dead like flies on the windowsill.

The answer to the temptation of nihilism is not an argument — though philosophy can clear away a lot of intellectual foolishness. It is the experience of transcendence we cannot explain, or explain away. It is the fragments of love and meaning that arrive out of the blue — in beauty that leaves a lump in your throat, in the peace and ordered complexity of nature, in the shadow and shimmer of a cathedral, in the unexplained wonder of existence itself. 

Michael Gerson, published in the Washington Post 

Regret is overrated

Regret is an emotion, and it is also a punishment that we administer to ourselves. The fear of regret is a factor in many of the decisions that people make (‘Don’t do this, you will regret it’ is a common warning), and the actual experience of regret is familiar. The emotional state has been well described by two Dutch psychologists, who noted that regret is “accompanied by feelings that one should have known better, by a sinking feeling, by thoughts about the mistake one has made and the opportunities lost, by a tendency to kick oneself and to correct one’s mistake, and by wanting to undo the event and to get a second chance.” Intense regret is what you experience when you can most easily imagine yourself doing something other than what you did.

Decision makers know that they are prone to regret, and the anticipation of that painful emotion plays a part in many decisions.

We spend much of our day anticipating, and trying to avoid, the emotional pains we inflict on ourselves. Susceptibility regret, like susceptibility to fainting spells, is a fact of life to which one must adjust.

You can take precautions that will inoculate you against regret. Perhaps the most useful is to be explicit about the anticipation of regret. If you can remember when things go badly that you considered the possibility of regret carefully before deciding, you are likely to experience less of it. You should also know that regret and hindsight bias will come together, so anything you can do to preclude hindsight is likely to be helpful. You should not put too much weight on regret; even if you have some, it will hurt less than you now think.

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

Black Swains

We have a natural tendency to look for instances that confirm our story and our vision of the world.

Seeing white swans does not confirm the nonexistence of black swans. There is an exception, however: I know what statement is wrong, but not necessarily what statement is correct. If I see a black swan I can certify that all swans are not white! If I see someone kill, then I can be practically certain that he is a criminal. If I don’t see him kill, I cannot be certain that he is innocent. The same applies to cancer detection: the finding of a single malignant tumor proves that you have cancer, but the absence of such a finding cannot allow you to say with certainty that you are cancer-free.

We can get closer to the truth by negative instances, not by verification.

Nissim Taleb, The Black Swain

Here's what I know for sure

There are three depths of knowing.

  1. Hearsay: You’ve heard of the president. You’ve heard of Mt. Everest.
  2. Introduction: You’ve been introduced to the President. You’ve visited Mt. Everest.
  3. Intimately: You’re a good friend of the President. You’ve climbed Mt. Everest.

Understanding comes when you wrestle with these questions:

  1. What is the most sure thing to you? 
  2. What would be the most impossible thing to doubt?

Stephen Goforth

Staying Power

Faith supplies staying power. It contains dynamic to keep one going when the going is hard. Anybody can keep going when the going is good, but some extra ingredient is needed to enable you to keep fighting when it seems that everything is against you.

You may counter, "But you don’t know my circumstances. I am in a different situation than anybody else and I am as far down as a human being can get.

In that case you are fortunate, for if you are as far down as you can get there is no further down you can go. There is only one direction you can take from this position, and that is up. So your situation is quite encouraging. However, I caution you not to take the attitude that you are in a situation in which nobody has ever been before. There is no such situation.

Practically speaking, there are only a few human stories and they have all been enacted previously. This is a fact that you must never forget – there are people who have overcome every conceivable difficult situation, even the one in which you now find yourself and which to you seems utterly hopeless. So did it seem to some others, but they found an out, a way up, a path over, a pass through.

Norman Vincent Peale,  The Power of Positive Thinking