The School of Life presents: Self-discovery in self-isolation

The article is by The School of Life, in partnership with CNN, as part of a series on living more philosophically during the coronavirus pandemic.

(CNN)At some point in the 1650s, the French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal jotted down one of the most counterintuitive aphorisms of all time: 'The sole cause of man's unhappiness is that he cannot stay quietly in his room.'

Really? Surely having to stay quietly in one's room must be the beginning of a particularly evolved kind of psychological torture? What could be more opposed to the human spirit than to have to inhabit four walls when, potentially, there would be a whole planet to explore?
And yet Pascal's idea usefully challenges one of our most cherished beliefs: that we must always go to new places in order to feel and discover new and worthwhile things. What if, in fact, there were already a treasury inside us? What if we had within our own brains already accumulated a sufficient number of awe-inspiring, calming and interesting experiences to last us ten lifetimes? What if our real problem was not so much that we are not allowed to go anywhere -- but that we don't know how to make the most of what is already to hand?
    Being confined at home gives us a range of curious benefits. The first is an encouragement to think. Whatever we like to believe, few of us do much of the solitary original bold kind of thinking that can restore our spirits and move our lives ahead. The new ideas we might stumble upon if we did travel more ambitiously around our minds while lying on the sofa could threaten our mental status quo. An original thought might, for example, alienate us from what people around us think of as normal. Or it might herald a realisation that we've been pursuing the wrong approach to an important issue in our lives, perhaps for a long time. If we took a given new idea seriously, we might have to abandon a relationship, leave a job, ditch a friend, apologise to someone, rethink our sexuality or break a habit.
    Living an isolated life: Astronauts, Antarctic doctors and climbers share their advice