Life is hard. Deal with it.
Don’t think I don’t hate how that sounds.
It’s the kind of advice circulated by the person who has tried happiness and failed, who instead appeases himself with the cynical, self-congratulatory conviction that happiness must be an illusion.
When this person tells you life is hard, she means life is a solemn thing, not to be smiled upon. She means to challenge you to abandon your smile, too.
Forget that person.
This isn’t their kind of ‘life is hard’. When I tell you life is hard, it’s not a challenge.
It’s an invitation.
It’s an invitation to free yourself from the need to feel happy and comfortable all the time, to stop judging yourself for the slipperiness of your contentment.
It’s an invitation to disengage from the notion that happiness is a tangible asset, something that can be disproportionately earned and stockpiled by those who employ the best tactics.
I’d like to tell you a story of two contradictory characters:
Their names are Resourcefulness and Laziness, and they are top commanders in the control station of your mind.
Since developing the very first technologies, we’ve employed Resourcefulness and Laziness to eliminate innumerable discomforts and inconveniences from our lives.
Together, we’ve had a lot of success at this. We increasingly generate food in abundance, improve and automate laborious processes, eliminate diseases, and generally live longer, more comfortable lives than our predecessors.
In other words, we’re focusing less on being alive and focusing more on being happy. After all — as Resourcefulness and Laziness are eager to point out — if we can manufacture more comfortable bodies, shouldn’t we manufacture more comfortable minds?
Unfortunately, unlike physical discomfort, there’s no evidence that emotional discomfort is something we can, or should, eliminate.
In fact, evidence suggests that our attempts to do so are actually having in the opposite effect.
Statistically speaking, we are the unhappiest people in history.
Pretty messed up, right?
When you start chasing happiness, you start accepting some dangerous ideas.
You accept that happiness can be obtained. You accept that you don’t have quite as much of it as you need.
You accept that if you follow the guidelines and do the right things, you might procure enough happiness to subsist your lifetime, finally free of those pesky negative feelings that used to bother you before you made happiness a priority in your life.
The $10+ billion self-help industry eagerly perpetuates this opulent ideal; a bubbly, lukewarm brain-feeling accessible to anybody willing to work for it.
And it’s easy to sell people on happiness because it’s such an attractive alternative to those icky other things… you know… pain and discomfort.
Dealing with those things is hard work.
Laziness detests dealing with those things. Resourcefulness thinks it would be a wise investment of your time to accumulate some more of this happiness thing, to take the place of those other nasty things.
Unfortunately, trying to manufacture happiness is like putting a bird in a cage. Its true beauty shows only when it flies.
This is true of all your emotions — like little fluttering birds perching briefly in your consciousness before returning to the ether, your feelings are precious because they are fleeting.
This means that happiness is fleeting, but pain and discomfort are fleeting, too.
Life exists because of death, not in spite of it. Light exists because of darkness, happiness because of sorrow, comfort because of pain.
All of your experience exists in this interplay between extremes, and your purpose isn’t to choose one extreme over the other but to strive for equilibrium, centred between two poles whose powers govern everything and where life happens in the middle, endlessly teetering in pursuit of the perfect balance.
Your happiness is your sadness because the gift of life isn’t to feel happy, it’s to feel anything.
The odds of you existing are 1 in 10 to the 2.685 millionth power.
We don’t have a name for that number. It’s a 10 with 2,685,000 zeroes after it.
Fulfilment is nothing but raw, unfiltered gratitude for the life you’ve been given.
This means not only accepting pain and discomfort, but appreciating them.
There’s this funny thing you do when you try to force happiness, like entering a dysfunctional relationship with your emotions.
When happiness arrives, you smother it — don’t ever leave me! And surely enough, it leaves.
So you start chasing after happiness, trying to reverse-engineer the situations that used to bring you together. You become desperate and manic, until you’re standing outside of happiness’s window with a boombox, crying as you bellow the song that played on your first date.
At this point, happiness wants nothing to do with you.
In its place shows up sadness, and you panic — Go away! Leave me alone!
But sadness isn’t concerned with your disinterest. It starts stalking you like you stalked happiness, desperately fighting for your attention. The more you try to ignore it, the more persistent it becomes.
Now sadness is all you know. Happiness is a distant memory, the one that got away.
If you gave happiness some space and gave sadness the attention it needed, it would have been satisfied and went away, and happiness would have returned.
This is why I say you must choose your pain, because when you disproportionately spend your time choosing the things that feel good, you lose the ability to deal with the things that don’t.
When you reject one pain, you inflict another.
When you refuse to feel sad, you lose the novelty of feeling happy.
When you refuse to feel scared, you lose the privilege of gaining courage.
When you refuse to face rejection, you lose the opportunity to accomplish something great.
When you refuse to be vulnerable with the ones you love, you lose the gratification of meaningful relationships.
When you refuse to look inward for fear of what you might see, you lose the vital knowledge of who you really are.
The pain you choose is the pain from which you grow. The cultivation of your fulfillment is wrought with discomfort.
This doesn’t mean you should never choose happiness. Don’t mistake me for a masochist. I’m not condemning optimism, positive thinking, and the pursuit of that which makes you happy.
Rather, I’m reminding you to give pain the same priority you give pleasure, so you may avoid the unfavourable outcome of letting your quest for happiness consume you.
Here’s a new story to tell to Laziness and Resourcefulness, one with a happy ending for everybody:
I understand it’s very taxing for you to deal with pain and discomfort. I realize you’d rather not. But please, instead of asking Resourcefulness to help you find ways of avoiding these things, ask him to please help you deal with them. Habitually working together to confront the unpleasant will spare us a lifetime of confusion and discontent, and that saves us a lot of hard work in the end.
I know you’ll understand.