Hunter S. Thompson isn’t exactly known as a saint, nor do people tend to look to the drug-loving, slightly crazed journalist for life advice. However, through his fringe lifestyle and off-the-beaten-path outlook he’s provided plenty of advice on living that apply to all of us.
Hunter S. Thompson is probably best known for his books, Hell’s Angels, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, alongside his reporting that appeared in the likes of Rolling Stone, Esquire, Harper’s, and others. He also ran for sheriff in Colorado, is well known for doing a ton of drugs and drinking excessively, and eventually killed himself in 2005. Which is all to say, on the surface, Thompson isn’t someone any of us should be taking life advice from. Yet, with all that, he still had a fascinating outlook on the world that we can all take something from, even if it’s not emulating him directly.
Define Your Way of Life
When we think of what we want in the future, we often think of goals. This type of thinking perpetuates a myth that we have to always be seeking something specific. In a letter to his friend, Hume Logan, Hunter S. Thompson suggests a different approach:
So if you now number yourself among the disenchanted, then you have no choice but to accept things as they are, or to seriously seek something else. But beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life.
Thompson’s pointing out that oftentimes when we’re feeling disenchanted, we look for ways to change our lives through goals. This doesn’t always get us anywhere because it doesn’t uproot and change the things that truly matter. For that, you need a whole way of life, and if you don’t know what you want from it, you can’t find a true goal. Figuring out what you want in life is a heck of a lot harder than picking a random goal, but you’ll be better for it in the end.
Explore the World and Take Risks
We like to think that staying home, staying at the same job, and being safe leads to a happier life. But for many, that’s recipe for resentment. It’s pretty obvious when you look at Thompson’s life, from the acid trips to the barroom brawls, that safe was never his prerogative. Thompson lays this out in a letter published in The Proud Highway:
So we shall let the reader answer this question for himself: Who is the happier man, he who has braved the storm of life and lived, or he who has stayed securely on shore and merely existed?
He echoes this ideal countless time in his writing, but most notably in Kingdom of Fear:
Some people will tell you that slow is good — but I’m here to tell you that fast is better. I’ve always believed this, in spite of the trouble it’s caused me. Being shot out of a cannon will always be better than being squeezed out of a tube.
You don’t need to do copious amounts of drugs to venture off into the world, but breaking away from the metaphorical shore and leaving your comfort zone is an easy way to keep your life interesting without putting yourself in danger. Heck, in some cases you just need to say “yes” to everything to shake things up.
View the World with a Bit of Side-Eye
Technically, Hunter S. Thompson was a journalist, which means his main goal was to report on what’s happening in the world. Many of us like to think news is objective, but that’s basically impossible. Every person’s view on what’s happening is a little different than another’s. True facts are hard to come by. Thompson knew that, which is why he stuck himself into his stories, even when it didn’t seem like he should. In Fear and Loathing :On the Campaign Trail ’72, Thompson reminds us that we shouldn’t expect that in our news:
With the possible exception of things like box scores, race results, and stock market tabulations, there is no such thing as Objective Journalism. The phrase itself is a pompous contradiction in terms.
Most of us aren’t trying to be journalists, but the idea that an objective, always-true view of the world is a bad idea is worth investing in. Thinking critically isn’t easy, but you’ll be better off for it in the end. Be open to new ideas, research various statements, and remember, only imbeciles never change their minds.
Make Your Choices and Move On
Every day, we all have thousands of choices to make. Whether it’s as simple as picking lunch or as complicated as changing careers, choices matter. But we still have to make a choice, whether we want to or not, because eventually that choice is going to disappear. In the same letter to Hume Logan linked to above, Thompson reminds us that life’s short and sometimes you just have to make a choice and move along:
A man who procrastinates in his choosing will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.
We have so many choices in life that sometimes it’s best to just make a decision and move on before someone else forces it on you.