Sometimes, we don’t earn the grades we hoped for, and that feels awful. People have trouble in their relationships and it drives the life out of them.
Others are living on the streets with no source of money, while there are billionaires out there, depressed as anything. People of every background, financial situation, ethnicity, and age struggle with life and accepting it.
Is that bad, or is it good? Why do we even struggle with accepting life the way we have it?
by Atul Gawande
⏱ 14 minutes reading time
🎧 Audio version available
Let’s start with a simple phenomenon. If you think about it, we were not exactly born to be happy from evolution’s perspective. I mean, if we look at it from that angle, we were meant to reproduce, so that the human race continues, no matter what.
Happiness is not something you are here in this world for. But happiness is something that we deeply crave. It feels amazing to be happy about something and that is not something that happens every moment of the day. Because human beings were born to struggle. They were never meant to remain constantly happy because that is not possible.
Most of us have trouble in our lives in some shape or form. For a poor person living on the streets, the troubles of a rich man may seem insignificant. But we are also highly adaptive creatures. We quickly adapt to our conditions, even when it scares us.
For example, if a rich man loses 90% of his money, he will be very upset for a while. But a couple of months in, he’ll have gotten used to it. Similarly, a poor man may have wished for money. He feels a specific amount of money would make him happy forever, if he ever got his hands on it. Now, he ends up winning the lottery.
For the first couple of weeks, he is overjoyed and ecstatic every single day he wakes up. But as the days pass by, he begins to get used to his new luxurious lifestyle. Now, he has relationship issues, because he can’t find himself a significant other, and he feels lonely because he can’t make friends. He can’t trust people to want him instead of his money. A couple of months in, he’s just as sad as he was when he had no money.
Similarly, if you think about yourself, you may realize that you are much better off now than you were, say, 10 years ago. Of course, that may not be true for everyone, but I’m speaking for the majority. I’m sure that now you possess things that once were your dream.
It could be something as simple as a cell phone, a gaming console, or even a home or a car. I’m sure you’ve gotten at least one thing that you craved back in the day. Does that thing still blow your mind and make you ecstatic? You probably enjoy the vibes, but it’s just part of your routine now, isn’t it? Just another thing you use which doesn’t give you any more satisfaction than any of the other normal things you do everyday.
Well, as you can see, the number one spot is always empty. There is always someone better than you in some shape or form. You could be the CEO of a company, but you just can’t stop yourself from being jealous of the CEO of another company who makes about the same salary as you, but has a stunningly lovely girlfriend. And you don’t even have a girlfriend.
In that moment, you would give anything to trade your life for his. And that guy with the girlfriend is depressed because his friends betrayed him; he is jealous of your strong friendships. All these examples are hypothetical, but this happens in real life all the time. Why does it happen and why can we not accept our lives the way they are? That is because we have linked happiness to external things. And in reality, they cannot bring us happiness.
That is the problem. We expect that temporary things will bring us permanent happiness. But we cannot rightly distinguish between long-term and short-term happiness. Buying expensive take-out for 50 bucks when you only have 150 bucks in your account may bring you temporary happiness, but after you have eaten, you will probably regret it.
The same can be said for quitting smoking. In the long term, quitting will make you far happier because you would have improved your health.
The truth is that we cannot feel happy unless we accept that struggles will always be a part of our lives. We cannot possibly eliminate negative emotions, like sadness and anger, no matter how hard we try. In one form or another, troubles will come knocking on our door.
Instead of spending our lives trying to hide from those troubles, we should try facing them with our heads held high. It is important to realize that there is no life without struggle. In fact, even to feel happy, you will have to struggle.
An A grade on your finals will probably make you feel happy for a long, long time. But if we had not gone through the trouble of working so hard for hours on end, we would have never had that happiness.
Buying yourself something with your parent’s money will never feel as good as buying it with money you earned. The day we accept struggles as a core part of our life and try to take every single day as it is, to make the best of it, is when we start to feel content with our lives.
Back in the day, people had to hunt for food to be able to live the next day. They were forced to do all that physical labor because there were no other options. Luxuries like the Internet and today’s technology didn’t exist yet. But people were probably happier than we are today.
In today’s modern world, everything is different. As a teenager living on your parent’s money, you get food and luxuries without having to work for them. So, you would need to go out of your way to prioritize them. Back in the old days, people didn’t even have that option. Failure to do most tasks meant death for most. And that is exactly why the human race is where it is today, because it struggled infinitely throughout scores of generations.
Finding happiness in drugs, money, or other temporary, material things will never end well. It’s the simple pleasures in life we need to reach for. Seeing your kids after a long day at work, spending alone time with your partner, or morning tea in a sunshine filled garden.
As soon as we start to try changing our attitude towards life, itself, we’ll notice a huge change in our lives. It’s not easy trying to resist the urge of, say, a cigarette or a joint. But if your first thought in the morning is to smoke a joint, then you may need a change of perspective.
To do this, you need to change your perspective on failure. If you failed without even bothering to try, then the only reason to feel bad is that you didn’t try. If you tried and failed, then you need to convince yourself that it was a great thing.
No one in the world has achieved success without countless failures. Your failures bring you closer to success with every step. Hustling through life while trying your best to enjoy each day will bring you closer to being content in your life.
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