If you want to live a meaningful life, you have to choose a life of suffering to some extent.
Our brain has basically two fundamental principles upon which it decides: attraction or repulsion. We want kindness, honesty, food, and our desires to be fulfilled but we try to avoid fear, uncertainty, stress and pain. Pain has the function of teaching us to avoid things that harm our bodies.
Just as hunger drives us to eat and lust drives us to have sex, pain keeps us from doing things that might harm us.
But this raises a conundrum: If the purpose of pain and fear and sadness and all that is to avoid them, then why do we sometimes seek them out?
The Two Types Of Suffering
There is a world of difference between chosen suffering and unchosen suffering.
Unchosen suffering like chronic pain is in most cases bad for you.
The real wealth is in the chosen suffering.
Alan Watts told this wonderful story:
“Imagine you go to sleep one night and find yourself in a lucid dream.
You could dream whatever you want. Any kind of joy, pleasure, any experience you want. If you can fantasize about it, you can experience it.
Then you wake up the next morning and you can dream whatever you want again. And again it’s a lucid dream. And again you explore pleasure and all kinds of excitement. But sooner or later, Watts says, you’ll get bored with it.
What you’re going to do is put some obstacles out of the way. You’re going to set up the possibility of failure. You’re going to create situations where you fail, because if you don’t fail, then the successes mean nothing and soon you’ll be living a life of complexity, struggle and pain in your dreams. And then he says that you will live a life very similar to the life you are living now.”
There is a deep insight here, which is that the good things in life only make sense in relation to the bad things.
If you win every competition you enter, it’s no longer fun. You also have to have the possibility to lose.
If all your experiences are positive, they don’t become positive anymore, you need a negative.
If you were in such good shape that training for a triathlon would be easy for you, it wouldn’t mean much to you.
But the difficulty is part of what makes it worth it. Part of what makes it worth it. If it’s not hard on some level, if you don’t look back on it and cringe a little, it’s probably not meaningful.
There was a survey of more than a million people that asked:
What is your job? And then it asked, How meaningful is your job?
The most meaningful ones were jobs like that of an educator, a medical doctor, or the military, which involve struggle and difficulty.
So we see in our lives a whole spectrum of sufferings so minor that they hardly deserve the name, like eating spicy food or working on a crossword puzzle. No reward, nothing.
You just do it because it’s exhausting.
Our idea of what is a meaningful experience or goal or life requires some degree of suffering.
Suffering could be physical pain. It could be difficulty, it could be apprehension.
It could be the possibility of failure.
But without that, the experience is not meaningful.
We need pain and suffering to live a rich and happy life.
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