I don’t write as much “self-help” as I used to, mostly because your problems are mostly bigger than you alone can solve. There are about a quadrillion systemic forces weighing down the vast majority of folks’ pursuit of the extraordinary, and if we really want to improve people’s lives at scale, with the highest ROI, we need to address cultural norms and policy.
That said: I also don’t write as much “self-help” as I used to, because I’ve candidly run out of big life-improvement ideas to think about. I’m not going to improve upon The 4 Pillars, 3 Keys, 2 Energies, 7 Noble Pursuits, or 12 Common Ways. I can expand on them, and poke around them, or dive deep into each topic individually, but for the most part, the guts of the Gorman Doctrine there.
Value life above all, and value all life equally. Your purpose in life is to find ways to ease the burden of suffering for yourself and others. Try to learn, make, experience, and share something every single day. Live with humility, curiosity, and empathy. Balance ambition and appreciation. Strive for health, joy, peace, purpose, communion, wisdom, and freedom.
Drink more water, eat more plants, minimize and organize, go outside, get more exercise, have more fun, put down your phone, drink a little less, smoke a lot less, go to therapy, distance yourself from people who suck.
And, if all else fails — or even if it doesn’t — do enough hallucinogens to kill a Maine Coon. Boom. Compile the essays, slap a colorful cover and an ISBN on it.
That said, I’ve buried the top-line point of all those elements of a well-lived life in other essays, so I guess now it’s time to get straight down to the business of identifying the baseline raison d’être of the human collective. Okay, okay … there’s two, total. You ready?
Satisfaction and belonging. These are humans’ primary and most elemental desires above mere survival. They drive all goal-directed behavior and they’re the core tenets of our both self-interest and altruism.
Satisfaction is a sense of “enough.” I’ve done enough, well enough. I have enough. I’ve eaten enough. I am enough.
Belonging is a sense of “home.” I feel at home here, or with you, in this space, or doing these things, with these people, etc.
Everything we do — good and evil, food and sex, growth and suppression — are aimed at moving the needle along the continuums of satisfaction and belonging, either for ourselves or for others. Even the maladaptive things we do. Really.
Same with everything we feel — love and hate, security and fear, joy, and melancholy. They’re data points along these same continuums. They’re scatter-plots along the axes of satisfaction and belonging.
We find satisfaction and belonging when we feel mostly safe, and occasionally thrilled. If you think of all great relationships — friendships, working relationships, domestic partnerships, life-long loves — we feel safe around them, and occasionally thrilled to be in their company. If you think of all the great places we visit and long for, they satisfy us and we feel like we belong there.
People generally just want to feel like to feel good about themselves, and feel like they’re seen, safe, and supported. Everything else — health, joy, peace, love, security, equality, purpose, truth, freedom — ladders up, in some way, to satisfaction and belonging.
Moreover, satisfaction and belonging overlap in points and affect each other. When we belong, we feel a bit more satisfied. When we’re satisfied, we feel a bit more like we belong.
That sounds so … dull and elemental, doesn’t it? Like, satisfaction? Belonging? What about the grand cosmic quest for meaning and legacy and an unshakable knowledge that life itself isn’t just one big random accident, in which humans are infinitesimal expressions of a boundless universe, created by infinite circumstantial examples of physics, math, chemistry, biology, and astronomy? Come on, now, that’s so extra. I should upcharge you for all that metaphysical parkour.
Everything else, beyond satisfaction and belonging, is just too much. You ever met a satisfied person who feels like they belong? They’re fantastic to hang out with. They share. They’re simple. They’re confident. They laugh. Conversely, most pathological behavior stems from chronic dissatisfaction or feeling like you don’t belong anywhere.
That’s why our life satisfaction doesn’t noticeably increase beyond $75K USD. $400M in real estate and hedge fund holdings? Hell naw. Your life doesn’t get better when you’re filthy rich. The obscenely wealthy — and their progeny — are among the most dissatisfied and isolated people on Earth, yet they keep doubling down on wealth because they’re not satisfied, and power because they don’t feel like they belong. Satisfaction and belonging, friends. That’s it. That’s all we’re aiming for.
The perfect loving partnership is two people who really enjoy hanging out with each other, who like each other the same amount, who express their love for each other in the way the other prefers to receive it, and have consistently satisfactory sex. Everything else is just window dressing, or a distraction from relationship dissatisfaction.
Find a place that feels like home, five close friends, about 15 good ones, and try to heal all the ways your family screwed you up when you were young. Then, get involved in your community. Boom. You did it. You belong.
Yes, I made it sound simple. No, I don’t mean it to sound easy. If it was, we wouldn’t all be reading, looking for novel pathways forward. I’d argue much of the root of suffering stems from predatory institutions and powerful people who actively torpedo people’s potential for satisfaction and belonging.
Suicides, depression, anxiety, loneliness are all on the rise in many western countries (even before COVID-19 became the spike on top of the spike). Wealth, life expectancy, equality, democracy, civility, and truth are all in free fall. Most everything is working against you. That’s why it’s all so hard — not because you’re defective, but because you’re running against an institutional headwind. That’s why collective action is so important: Attempts to cultivate satisfaction and belonging at the societal scale are our best hope to improve it at the individual level, too.
I think that’s all we were meant to do in our short window as breathing, beating, beautiful entities in the cosmos: put ourselves to use to cultivate satisfaction and belonging in others. It sure beats ruminating over existence’s inherent randomness and meaninglessness.
After all, once life ends, it ends. We can’t press pause or rewind. I don’t want to lie on my deathbed and wish I “figured more mysteries of the universe out.” (Although, I do want to unravel a few more of them, just to amuse myself.) I want to lay there satisfied, and feel like during my short stay here on EarthBnB, that I belonged.
This piece was brought to you by PS I Love You. Relationships Now.