In 399 BCE Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I believe this to be true, because I believe it is only by examination, reflection, analysis, that we are able to identify our weaknesses and opportunities, and make the best adjustments and decisions we can. An unexamined life isn’t worth living, not only because of its shallowness, but because it will most likely turn out pretty shitty: an unexamined life would largely revolve around distractions: gratifying our short term impulses over long term goals, pursuits, and things that lead to long term happiness and contentment. An unexamined life would be a miserable one, because we would not even be aware of what made us truly happy–of what we truly wanted from life. Conversely, by closely examining our lives, we are able to understand what we value, what brings us lasting happiness and fulfillment, and adjust our lives toward maximizing those things.
This blog’s purpose is to discuss, refine, test, and show how The Analytical Life is a happy, meaningful life, to demonstrate that through analysis and developing analytical principles we can better live our values, reach our goals, and be fulfilled and happy. I want to show how great people, past and present, have used analytical principles to be successful in their pursuits. I also want to discuss the ways our unique moment in history makes an analytical life both much more attainable while simultaneously offering us a multitude of distractions that make living an analytical life harder.
While this blog will rely heavily on data, it is more so about thinking and acting on analytical principles than relying solely on quantitative data to make decisions: we also need to understand how to make the best decisions possible when little or no data is available to us, quantitative or otherwise. This blog is not about being able to do mental math. Instead, I want to focus on the idea of living with an analytical mindset: living The Analytical Life.
What do I mean by The Analytical Life?
The Analytical life is a life governed by analytical principles. These principles are generalizable rules which make effective decision making easier, and allow us to more easily identify and analyze life situations. The fundamental activity of The Analytical Life is analysis. Analysis seeks to break down a situation into its constituent parts. It is not description, but rather an investigation into the underlying circumstances and events that created the situation, as well as a deeper understanding of the situation. Furthermore, analysis offers a solution or set of solutions. This is my special definition: The Analytical Life is one of action.
When one thinks of analysis, the word data follows. Data, qualitative and quantitative, is necessary for accurate, useful analyses. Data does not mean numbers. Though numbers can be exceptionally useful in challenging commonly held assumptions and pushing back against anecdotal evidence. Anecdotal evidence–one time situations, stories, or occurrences– are often weaker forms of data than those which are consistent and multipresent. The exception is when outliers have an outsized impact on situation outcomes (we’ll discuss that later).
This is often where The Analytical Life meets its first major test and criticism: because it is wary of anecdotes, it may come across as cold, callous, or unemotional. However, I would argue that The Analytical Life, far from being emotionless or hostile toward emotion, treats emotion with the respect and thoughtfulness that it requires. First, I believe that The Analytical Life provides a framework for humans to live to their maximum potential–to experience the most happiness and satisfaction they can from life: it is intended to be an emotionally-maximizing life framework.
The Analytical Life also recognizes that human emotions are complicated and ephemeral: a decision we make based on a strong emotion today can lead us down a path which does not maximize happiness or fulfillment in the long run. The clearest example where this is the case to me comes from how we sometimes treat our pets toward the end of their lives. I have seen several situations where a beloved family pet was not put down, even though it was obviously in great pain and was unable to do the things (even walk) that would give it joy. The thought of ending their lives seems abhorrent to us, so instead? We allow them to continue suffering, putting off our grief in return. I know this example may be uncomfortable, so here’s another one: opioid abuse. While it might bring you great joy in the moment, anyone who has gone through that harrowing journey will tell you it was not worth it. Contrary to being anti-emotion, The Analytical Life seeks to understand emotion as it truly exists, keeping present emotion in perspective with long term goals, values, and principles.