6 Ways to Live a Fuller Life According to Alan Watts

How do we enjoy the present moment without being mired by thoughts of our past and anxieties about our future? Alan Watts gave an answer in The Wisdom of Insecurity.

Jan 25, 2023By Bojan George, MA Law w/ major in Philosophy
photo alan watts smiling
Photo of Alan Watts


The modern age brings comfort to our lives that our predecessors weren’t lucky enough to enjoy. We’re cushioned from the myriad of tragedies that happen daily in certain parts of the world and shielded from the pain, sorrow, and misery that afflicts them. Yet, instead of counting our blessings and being grateful for our circumstances, we tend to take that for granted. Not only that, we want more. More security, material possessions, money, status, and desires. And the famous philosopher Alan Watts seems to know why this is. Watts wrote over 25 books and held over 400 lectures, becoming one of the most famous philosophers of his time. His philosophy draws from Zen and Buddhism and holds invaluable life lessons that’ll help you adopt a fresh perspective on life and living.


Following are 6 lessons from Watts’ book, The Wisdom Of Insecurity that can help us see our tendencies to seek more comfort and learn how to transform those desires into a new perspective on life.


1. The More We Search for Security, the More Insecure We Are 


According to Watts, the more we search for comfort and security, the more we remind ourselves that we lack them. The more we seek certainty, the more we feel uncertain. The more we want to shield ourselves from insecurity, the more we feel insecure. The more we desire money and status, the more we feel like we’re poor and on the lower rung of society.


It’s not an issue that we want those things. The problem is that we feel anxious in the process of chasing them. We tense up and enter a fight-or-flight state in which we tell ourselves that we must get those things no matter what.

Get the latest articles delivered to your inbox

Sign up to our Free Weekly Newsletter


If to enjoy even an enjoyable present, we must have the assurance of a happy future; we are “crying for the moon.” We have no such assurance. The best predictions are still matters of probability rather than certainty, and to the best of our knowledge, every one of us is going to suffer and die.”
Alan Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity


Meditation by Birger Carlstedt, 1945, via Wikimedia Commons.


Throughout our lives, we’re constantly trying to find ways to shed our insecurities. For some people, that’s a necessity. But for many others, it’s a goose chase. You see, the more you try to escape insecurity, the more you invite it into your fold. When you isolate yourself from others for fear that relationships can negatively affect you, you’re depleting yourself of the opportunity to grow, hear other people’s ideas and opinions, even question your outlook on life and how you live it.


Or, when you’re slaving away at the desk 60+ hours a week, with the excuse that you’re earning more money, achieving a higher status, or working for that coveted promotion.


But you’re doing that at the expense of your energy and time that you could spend pursuing hobbies, personal interests, or spending time with family and friends. Activities that provide you with life energy instead of depleting it.


We’re never guaranteed security. Today is all we have, so why go through life without enjoying it to the fullest?


2. We’re Constantly Looking to the Future for Happiness

Photo of Alan Watts via Twitter.


“For the animal to be happy, it is enough that this moment be enjoyable. But man is hardly satisfied with this at all. He is much more concerned to have enjoyable memories and expectations—especially the latter.”
Alan Watts


Ambitions and aspirations… seem to never materialize, don’t they? The perfect partner, the million-dollar idea, the promotion that could arrive any day: they’re all ideas that we keep in our mind to prevent us from feeling the pain we’ll feel if those moments don’t arrive. Clinging to future expectations and desires only prevents us from enjoying our life. 


Instead of thinking about what good (or bad) things await us in the future, it’s infinitely better to focus on what good things we have at the moment. You can be grateful for your family and your loving and supporting friends, or your health is in check, and you can provide for yourself.


There are countless moments around you that you can appreciate, small or big.


3. We Allow Our Past to Define Us 


The past and future are real illusions, that they exist in the present, which is what there is and all there is.”
Alan Watts


As much as we place our hopes on a better future, we allow our past to define our present with the same enthusiasm. We often cringe at moments of the past or cling to some image of ourselves that we feel we somehow must showcase today. Change isn’t possible since we are the same person, we think.


It’s a fallacy to think that our past influences our present or future in any way. You always have a choice on how to live life.


4. To Be Happy, You Must Accept Suffering 

Figure 19: Suffering by Guillaume-Benjamin-Amand Duchenne de Boulogne, 1854–56, printed 1862, via the Met Museum.


This, then, is the human problem: there is a price to be paid for every increase in consciousness. We cannot be more sensitive to pleasure without being more sensitive to pain.”
Alan Watts


Nothing good comes in life without pain or suffering. If you want more money, you need to work hard. If you want to be slim and in shape, you must workout and get rid of junk food. It sounds scarier than it is, though. If we’re shielded our entire lives from going through difficult situations, how can we expect to react appropriately to what life throws at us?


And sure enough, life has some curveballs to throw as time passes. We could lose loved ones, face health ailments, or other challenging scenarios threatening our material or physical livelihood.


Truth is, you can only get long-term satisfaction with some short-term sacrifice. That sacrifice can come in different forms, but it always entails suffering, whether heartbreak, refusing to eat highly-processed foods, or having that difficult conversation. The more you escape your comfort zone and be comfortable with discomfort, the more you’ll grow and be capable of taking on life’s challenges.


5. Embrace Minimalism


Instead of adding more stuff and items to the to-do list, practice scarcity. Instead of chasing more stuff, be content with the stuff you already own. Chasing more money, material possessions, or friendships may give you immediate pleasure.


But there are diminishing returns to this: how many deep friendships can you sustain? How many sleepless nights can you endure? How many missed birthdays, anniversaries, or date nights are you willing to sacrifice?


Some people are OK with this sacrifice. And that’s perfectly fine. But most people will find enjoyment in the “little” things in life and will be miserable if they miss those moments year after year.


Ask yourself, what can you remove from your life and still be happy, even more so than before?


6. Accept That Security Doesn’t Exist


The notion of security is based on the feeling that there is something within us which is permanent, something which endures through all the days and changes of life.
Alan Watts


Understand that perfect security is impossible and unattainable. The more you cling to the notion that you can be secure in this day and age, the more insecure you’ll be. As opposed to that, there’s freedom to be found in embracing insecurity. In allowing your life to be flawed in some shape or form.


Admitting that you’re not perfect and that no one around you is perfect liberates you from the expectations and desires you might have and expect to be fulfilled by you or others.


Tying It All Together

Virgil’s Tomb by Moonlight, with Silius Italicus Declaiming by Joseph Wright (Wright of Derby), 1779, via the Met Museum.


The truth is revealed by removing things that stand in its light, an art not unlike sculpture, in which the artist creates, not by building, but by hacking away.”
Alan Watts


It always starts with awareness. Simply being aware of the feelings and thoughts that arise when you yearn for security is the first step toward escaping its clutches. Then, you can let go and let life unfold before you. You’ll find that insecurity won’t destroy you. It liberates you.


The Wisdom of Insecurity helps us realize that life is about simply living. Stop overthinking everything and take each day as it comes. Give your best every day to be present with yourself and others. You may sometimes falter but keeping this in mind is essential. Perfection is the enemy of progress.


Watts teaches us that if we spend too much time and effort worrying about things, we’ll simply forget how to live. And isn’t that what we’re here to do, live?

Author Image

By Bojan GeorgeMA Law w/ major in PhilosophyBojan is a writer and researcher based in Skopje, Macedonia. He enjoys reading and is often found hunched over a desk writing. During his bachelor years, he devoured the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Lately, he’s been obsessed with everything related to Stoicism and Moral Philosophy. In his spare time, Bojan loves to practice Brasilian Jiu-Jitsu and read some good sci-fi.