“Difficulty shows what men are. Therefore when a difficulty falls upon you, remember that God, like a trainer of wrestlers, has matched you with a rough young man. Why? So that you may become an Olympic conqueror; but it is not accomplished without sweat.” – Epictetus
The New York times best selling author and blogger Mark Manson has an interesting and wholesome take on problems in life.
Manson insists that we suffer physically and biologically because pain is useful. It is nature’s way of helping us distinguish between what is good for us and not. It has helped us stay on our toes, stay innovative and survive for so long. He argues that our pain and misery aren’t a mistake of human evolution, they are a feature.
So a society that obsessively coddles itself in comfort and denial, and numbs its issues with excessive consumerism, eating, clickbait news and codependent relationships is a dangerous society. We are encouraged to shop, eat, play or fuck away our miseries to avoid looking at it in the face. With today’s infinite choices of distractions, it becomes easier. People either deny or avoid their problems because it is easy and it is a temporary relief. But that does not make the problems go away. It makes the situation even worse.
We might dream of a problem-free life of eternal happiness and pleasure, but that is not only impossible but also undesirable because problems birth our happiness.
The trick though is choosing and solving your own problems. And the beauty is that in each situation, you can take a step back, look at it as a whole and then decide – What problem do I want? For example, in a difficult conversation, you can choose the problem of being uncomfortable but honest or you can choose to agree on the surface but seethe with resentment later on. And the problem you choose shapes who you are as a person, and how your life will turn out to be.
“Happiness comes from solving problems. The keyword here is “solving.” If you’re avoiding your problems or feel like you don’t have any problems, then you’re going to make yourself miserable. If you feel like you have problems that you can’t solve, you will likewise make yourself miserable. The secret sauce is in the solving of the problems, not in not having problems in the first place.”
Problems never go away. They get exchanged, upgraded or degraded based on your choices.
“problems never fucking go away…—they just improve. Warren Buffett’s got money problems; the drunk hobo down at Kwik-E Mart’s got money problems. Buffett’s just got better money problems than the hobo. All of life is like this…Life is essentially an endless series of problems…The solution to one problem is merely the creation of the next one…Don’t hope for a life without problems,…There’s no such thing. Instead, hope for a life full of good problems.”
He says that everyone wants great things from life, a successful career, a loving family, great sex, an attractive physique. Who doesn’t want these things? There is no big deal if you want it. But in expanding his famous advice of “Choose your shit sandwich“, Manson says choose the problems you want to have. Select your problems and solve them. Learn to embrace and sustain the pain you choose. That, he says, is the path to happiness. The difference between a life which you have and the one you want to have is the fear you choose. What fears do you choose? Do you choose the fear of regret to fuel yourself to work harder, or the fear of failure to stop you? The answers to these will shape your life. Focusing on your immediate fears and ignoring the long term fears will lead to a life of regret and mediocrity.
“Most people want to have great sex and an awesome relationship, but not everyone is willing to go through the tough conversations, the awkward silences, the hurt feelings, and the emotional psychodrama to get there. And so they settle. They settle and wonder, “What if?” for years and years, until the question morphs from “What if?” into “What else?” And when the lawyers go home and the alimony check is in the mail, they say, “What for?” If not for their lowered standards and expectations twenty years prior, then what for?
Because happiness requires struggle. It grows from problems. Joy doesn’t just sprout out of the ground like daisies and rainbows. Real, serious, lifelong fulfillment and meaning have to be earned through the choosing and managing of our struggles. Whether you suffer from anxiety or loneliness or obsessive-compulsive disorder or a dickhead boss who ruins half of your waking hours every day, the solution lies in the acceptance and active engagement of that negative experience—not the avoidance of it, not the salvation from it.”
This avoidance of pain is also the root of co-dependence which is rotting the roots of our families and society. You don’t want to face your own discomfort so you focus on helping/ controlling others. You increasingly enjoy and fuel drama because that takes your attention away from your own problems and then someone else can be held responsible for your issues. And you get the high of moral righteousness. The highs of addiction, distraction and moral righteousness are shallow and unproductive ways to go through life. We lose the benefits of experiencing healthy doses of discomfort and pain and it removes us from the reality of the world around us.
“What determines your success isn’t, “What do you want to enjoy?” The relevant question is, “What pain do you want to sustain?” The path to happiness is a path full of shitheaps and shame…You have to choose something. You can’t have a pain-free life. It can’t all be roses and unicorns all the time. Pleasure is the easy question. And pretty much all of us have a similar answer.
The more interesting question is the pain. What is the pain that you want to sustain? That’s the hard question that matters, the question that will actually get you somewhere. It’s the question that can change a perspective, a life. It’s what makes me, me, and you, you. It’s what defines us and separates us and ultimately brings us together.”
In the Taoist perspective of yin and yang, if we can embrace and sustain the yin of our pain, the yang of our joy will come like its shadow. It is so much more wholesome than avoiding pain and numbing it, or denying that it exists and letting it rot into resentment and bitterness.
“Who you are is defined by what you’re willing to struggle for. People who enjoy the struggles of a gym are the ones who run triathlons and have chiseled abs and can bench-press a small house. People who enjoy long workweeks and the politics of the corporate ladder are the ones who fly to the top of it. People who enjoy the stresses and uncertainties of the starving artist lifestyle are ultimately the ones who live it and make it….This is not about willpower or grit. This is not another admonishment of “no pain, no gain.” This is the most simple and basic component of life: our struggles determine our successes. Our problems birth our happiness, along with slightly better, slightly upgraded problems.
See: it’s a never-ending upward spiral. And if you think at any point you’re allowed to stop climbing, I’m afraid you’re missing the point. Because the joy is in the climb itself.”