This is not something you would normally expect from bitter Danish philosophers. You would turn to some energetic life coach for advice on productivity, wouldn’t you? As it turns out, Soren Kierkegaard can teach you a lot about how (and why) to get important things done. Here are my top three picks.
Intro: Soren Who?
If you haven’t yet been introduced to Soren Kierkegaard, here are three quick ways to right that wrong. You can watch this brilliant video on YouTube which explains why you need to get to know his philosophy better – or you can read Life Lessons From Kierkegaard, a book which inspired this blog post – or, finally, get to read something written by the prolific Dane himself (may I suggest Either / Or to begin with?).
Lesson One: Life Is Laughable
Kierkegaard’s dissatisfaction with his peers, and with the life they live, is far-reaching. He describes his compatriots as “sleepwalkers” and confesses that the aspirations and ambitions of most people around him make him laugh. Is this really a productivity tip? It is, but (like most of what follows) you need to take it with a pinch of salt. If 99% of human enterprise is, at best, a bad joke, then it follows that you shouldn’t really be scared or frustrated about most of what you do. Suddenly that to-do list is not giving you guilty conscience any more.
Lesson Two: No Repetition
Soren Kierkegaard tested this one for us. He went back to Berlin, a city he knew and loved, to see whether he could have a great time on the same terms. Nearly everything was different, and most of his old haunts failed to give him his kicks again. So: no repetition. This means two things for productivity chasers. Firstly, you probably want to take the first chance you get at most projects – since the conditions are unlikely to repeat themselves. And secondly, you can get more great stuff done by remembering that what worked before will probably not give you those stellar results again. Get creative, then – keep it fresh.
Lesson Three: Happiness Is Arbitrary
If you were paying attention to the previous two, this one is your chance to nod wisely and say something like “yeah, well, figures.” A laughable life in an ever-changing universe, with no possibility of repetition… Soren Kierkegaard would probably burn all your “pursuit of happiness” books and ask you to get real. And by that, he would mean a strangely liberating thing: if reality is arbitrary, then chasing happiness must also mean accepting its arbitrary nature. You can’t be 100% sure why you’re happy, or how to get so happy again (check Stumbling on Happiness for a thorough, unblinking look at this happy chaos). You must try something else, then: make your own rules. Create your own games. Decide on what life means, and you will gain a degree of happiness out of it. Maybe. There are no promises with this guy.
Homework: Read Kierkegaard
Summer is finishing here on the northern hemisphere. It means cold, dark evenings and (if you live near me) lots of rain. This is perfect for philosophers like Kierkegaard. Read carefully, and may it lead you to strange productivity!