Twelve years ago, I am walking down the street when a crippling wave of vertigo and nausea hits me so hard I need to sit on nearby steps to avoid falling over. But the weakness is not going away. The nausea remains, along with an awful taste in my mouth. I experience the flavor of decay and despair. I feel as if I am in a deathtrap that is inches from closing.
There is no apparent cause.
I am a 23 year old man with normal health, no life-threatening illnesses or disabilities. If I go right now to the hospital, doctors would find no physical ailment.
My life is normal.
Normal white-collar job, normal home in a big city, normal friends with similar lifestyles, normal entertainment patterns, normal nutrition, normal girlfriend, normal parents, normal vices, normal sports, normal problems, normal dramas.
But there are no traumas. No shocking events or abusive figures in my past to blame.
Then why do I think I am in a deathtrap?
Because I had an epiphany. I realized my entire life has become a trap. One I don’t know how to escape.
This is not completely new. Truth is I have been living with silent despair for several years.
Before now, I could not identify the problems or their urgency. I had a vague sense things are not right. But it was easy to ignore.
The vertigo comes when I see the future. If I do not change, the remaining 60 something years of my life will be a miserable, meaningless, hopeless normal life.
A second wave of malaise hits when I realize there is only a tiny window of opportunity to escape this fate, to remake my life. If I miss it, the trap closes and the future solidifies.
In my youth I read a science fiction book called 'The Stochastic Man' by Robert Silverberg. It’s about a character who sees the future. But the future is predetermined. He cannot change it no matter how hard he tries. It's a bleak perspective, to know your fate but still live it.
I am close to becoming that character.
I see myself trapped in a life I do not want. It is like a train barreling on fixed tracks. I am imprisoned both by my inability to change, and my confusion about what I want. My life is adequate by most accounts. Yet it is devoid of joy and meaning.
Normal life is a trap.
You do everything like you should. Your life is ok by society standards. Not extraordinary, not remarkable, but not bad or unfortunate. You earn enough money to live without worry about food or shelter. Enough to spend most of it on unnecessary items. Your life is safer, easier and more comfortable than any other human in history.
Normal life in 2021 is superior on most accounts to a king’s life in 1020.
I should be content. You should be content.
But we are not.
Maybe there is a yearning you cannot name.
Maybe it’s an absence that remains empty no matter how you try to fill it.
Maybe you dread tomorrow instead of enjoying another day.
Maybe you sometimes want to disappear, escape life’s problems and pressure.
Maybe you feel outright despair, depression, hopelessness.
Maybe you struggle with a lack of meaning and find yourself asking 'Why I am alive?', 'What's my purpose?'.
Maybe you cannot find joy no matter how much pleasure you experience.
“Everything’s amazing, but nobody’s happy.” Louis C.K
My deathtrap epiphany was 12 years ago. It blew me apart. But in a good way. There is no creation without the destruction of what existed before. I felt escaping my normal life trap was a matter of life and death.
I have spent most of my time since then researching what it means to be human, what makes us happy, healthy and fulfilled. I have investigated what drives our behaviour, what stops us from changing, and how we can overcome these barriers.
I have spent these years, and will probably spend the rest of my life, trying to answer the question 'How can we build an ideal life?'. 'We' here is the 90%. The people who live a normal life in the developed world.
This sounds nice and altruistic. But it's as selfish as it can be.
The question I am actually answering is 'How can I build an ideal life?"
The answer however is for both. There is a core answer for everyone to build an ideal life, and then only small variations.
The answer is an unfinished sentence
It starts with 'Ignore normal.'
Normal is a trap. It's what we believe is ok based on media, advertising, politics and others' opinions. But none of these is looking out for you. They are selfish interests. Not to mention that normal life now is not normal for Homo Sapiens.
We were born as a species some 300,000 years ago. Almost everything about modern life is less than 500 years old.
Most humans in history did not have smartphones, laptops, chairs, indoor toilets, central heating, numerous choices of infinite quantities of food all the time, desk jobs, exposure to thousands of strangers every day, cars, cities, security, infinite information constantly bombarding them, multitasking, gaming, pornography, video.
They did have constant exposure to sunlight, the elements, cold, nature, external motivation to move, fasting and hunger, mastery as a prerequisite for survival, deadly risks, danger of rejection leading to exile and death.
Our modern life not normal for Homo Sapiens body and mind. The modern concept of normal is a lie. One that is harmful.
This is the first word in the sentence 'How can I live better.'
The rest of the sentence has two parts: adapt for evolution and compensate for evolution.
Adapt for evolution
Making life better is simple in a way.
Homo Sapiens evolved for certain conditions. Bring the same conditions to your life and you improve it.
I love science-fiction, but we don't live in 3022. We cannot re-engineer the human body or transplant our consciousness into robots. We don't even understand the body and mind that well. The best we can do is make the environment appropriate for us.
I have been trying to do this for a long time now. Some of the habits have become commonplace: intermittent fasting, strong discipline on sleep, methods to create focus and eliminate distractions, avoiding multi-tasking, cold exposure.
Others seem weird. Some examples: I don't wear sunglasses to protect my circadian rhythm and not get sunburn, I make electrical contact with the ground, I go outside to get light first thing in the morning, I don't complain because it programs my unconscious to make me a victim.
Compensate for evolution
Let's be real. Paleolithic is trendy. But living like a real cave-man is not nice. Go out with nothing but a stone-axe and underwear to live in the woods for a month if you don't believe me. It's not fun.
That's not the goal. The objective is to bring the stimuli our cavemen evolved for to the modern world with the modern comforts.
But it's more than that. We evolved adaptations for the Paleolithic that are really bad for us now. For these we need to compensate.
Easy example: sugar is addictive. Eating only a little is like choosing to push Sisyphus’s stone every day.. You can do it, but it is really hard.
So I don't eat any sugar. Ever.
People say this is hard. But it's much easier than eating a little. No drug = no biological drive to eat more of it. Simple rule of no sugar = no hard decisions on whether to eat it every time the opportunity appears.
We are full of such algorithms that steer us wrong. I try to compensate for them through rules and outside conditions. It does not always work. But it’s better than anything else.
The answer does not have a dot at the end. I'm still writing it.
One question, how many answers?
I had a crisis because I was trying to use others' answer to 'How can I live better.' But each of us writes the answer ourselves. You can copy-paste if you like, but pay attention to the source of your copying. Maybe you are copying from the class doofus and you don't even realize it.
In this book I try to find the answer to the question ’How can I build an ideal life?’.
There are innumerable variations in the specific answer to this question.
George’s answer might involve him working remote as a marketing consultant for startups while living on an island with ten of his friends and inventing a new surfing technique.
Janette’s answer might involve opening a business selling no-sugar biscuits with her two daughters.
Stuart’s answer might involve living a rural community in Northern France and writing a book on the ethical guidelines for visiting nature preserves.
Marie’s answer might be living with her husband and two children in suburbia and working a logistics job for Patagonia.
These are all random examples. The variations are countless.
But there is only one answer.
The core answer does two things:
1. It resolves our biological, psychological and spiritual needs as they evolved in our 300,000 history as Homo Sapiens.
2. It prevents self-harmful decisions that appear from the interaction between our unconscious algorithms and the modern world
These two can be met with an infinite number of variations. But the criteria are the same for all of them.
As you will see many elements of this answer are almost identical for everyone. For example, hydrogenated oils harm every human so everyone should not consume them. Or good sleep is an essential part of the answer for everyone. It needs to happen during the night, in certain conditions for every human, without exception.
Other elements are met by different people in different ways. Face to face close relationships are a key part of an ideal life. How you build these relationships, with whom and what you do in them will vary from person to person.
I am writing a book about how to build this Ideal Life.
A book is the perfect medium because there this is a complex topic which needs both story, and knowledge, and tactics and tools to master.
But a book takes a long time to write.
And as a reader you have to take a big risk with a new book from an unknown author. Reading a book is a time investment. How do you know you are not wasting your time (and money) by reading it?
Also there is a lot of chance involved in achieving successful distribution of the book. If only a few people see it, then it is limited. How can it help people build an ideal life if they don’t know it exists?
So in parallel with the book itself, I will be exploring the Ideal Life with this newsletter. This is a slightly new direction for the newsletter itself. But it’s not completely new.
The previous editions explored different topics. But at the end of the day, the ultimate goal is building the ideal life. Part of this construction is understanding the world and how we decide behaviour.
Now I want the newsletter to be more focused. Every edition will explore an element of the Ideal Life. Taken together they form a blueprint for building your ideal life, irrespective of your current context.
I hope this helps you and you come with me on this journey.
I hope you invite some friends to come along as well. Everyone can benefit from an ideal life.