top of page

Life is Hard and Full of Suffering - What You Can Do About It

If you think about life for a while, it is difficult not to come to the conclusion that it is hard. The world is big and we are small and vulnerable. Every time you leave the house, there are multiple disasters that could befall you. As you drive your car along a busy two-way highway, the separation between life and death is a few centimeters. If the oncoming driver had to lose concentration for a split second or be attacked by a bee and swerve into your lane, your life is potentially over. I lived in an active seismic region for 18 years - Mexico City. During that time there were thousands of small earthquakes and a handful of not-so-small quakes. When you swim in the ocean you could fall prey to a great white shark, when you are hiking in the mountains you could be bitten by a cobra. If you smoke too much you get lung cancer, if you stay too long in the sun you get skin cancer if you eat too much sugar you could get diabetes. You are reminded on a daily basis of your own mortality.

On a personal level, society will always judge you to be inadequate. Social media will remind you constantly of how full and great the lives of others are, and how shit your life is. Your friends will forget your birthday, they will forget to ask you how you are doing after a loved one died. Your partner may cheat on you, or fall out of love with you and leave you. This could throw you into a deep hole of sadness where you will lose the will to get out of bed in the morning - and even when you do, it is impossible to find joy in anything you do. You find it difficult to make your bed in the morning. The emptiness and quietness of your apartment become deafening. Those walks on the beach you used to find so exhilarating become a boring chore. You find a gift your ex-partner gave you and burst into tears. You drive past their house and are filled with nostalgia and melancholy.

Life is full of pain, rejection, and sadness. If that is the case, why is everyone so hell-bent on finding happiness? Should the goal not be a life with less pain, rejection, and sadness? How about a life with less loneliness and anxiety? Modern life is so not suited to mental health. In fact, modern life is doing everything possible to make us mentally ill. Before mass urbanization, we lived in villages and towns. We lived in close-knit communities where everyone looked out for each other. Your town may have been famous for making whisky. That helped to take some of the pressure off you as a person, because you were not only known as Bob, you were Bob from the town that made a shit hot single malt scotch. We now live in a world where anything is possible. Through the internet, we are connected to billions of people. A reality TV star can become president of the strongest country in the world, and a socially awkward South African space nerd can become the wealthiest person in the world. Against this backdrop, even the smallest failures are amplified into bitter disappointments, and with this, our sense of inadequacy grows. You put yourself outhere on dating apps and you set yourself up for wholesale rejection. If one guy walks up to one girl and asks her for her number, and is rejected, that is one rejection that most people can recover from. When you go onto a dating app, and set your radius at 100km, and you do not get a single match, that is rejection on a regional basis and is a lot harder to bounce back from.

So what is the antidote to all this misery? You need to find meaning in your life. How do you do that? There are two extremes of being - order and chaos. Chaos is a total lack of organization. It is freedom of all responsibility and the freedom to pursue you own selfish pleasures in the endless pursuit of self-gratification. How long do you think the novelty of this would take to wear off? In the beginning, this life of hedonism sounds attractive, but the problem is that humans are not well suited to paradise. Dostoevsky predicts that even when we are sitting in a utopia, we will be eternally ungrateful for the things we have. It'll be so boring and predictable that, against all common sense and rationality, people will start breaking things just to see something else happen.

The extreme of chaos is order - that is a life full of rules, regulations, restrictions and curtailment of personal freedoms. That is tyranny and that is not so cool either. So, you are looking for a balance between the two because it is in this balance that you will find meaning in your life. You need to have one foot in the known and one foot in the unknown. Your life cannot be so unpredictable that you have no idea where you are going to sleep tonight or where your next meal is going to come from. By the same token, it cannot be so structured and formal that there is no sense of personal freedom. How do you know you are living on the edge of chaos and order? You tend to lose track of time. You find yourself so enmgrossed in the activity that time flies. The activity absorbs you. Ok, so what kinds of things are we talking about?

These activities tend to be meaningful to you. They can be objectively meaningful or you have convinced yourself they are meaningful. Humans need to have a goal, and they need to see themselves making progress towards reaching that goal, and the goal preferably needs to be noble. If your goal is to become the champion of your golf club, there are ways you can convince yourself of the nobility of this goal - it may raise your profile in the club and allow you tp raise money for charity. My point is that the easiest way to find a meaningful goal is to try and serve the needs of others. Goals that focus entirely on self-improvement, and there is no outward-looking element to the goal, tend to be less noble.

This does not mean that everyone looking for meaning has to go out and volunteer at a charity - although that is a pretty good start. Many great businesses were started out of the desire to meet an important human need. Facebook was started to meet the need for people to connect with others. Uber out the need to find a safe and reliable taxi without having to stand in the middle of a busy city street. Amazon for the convenience of being able to source almost any product and have it delivered to your house. You need to find that noble aim, work towards it, take responsibility for it, and stand accountable for attaining the goal. That is how you find meaning and how you will make your life more tolerable.


bottom of page