If You're Not Struggling, Maybe You Should Be
One harmful myth perpetuated by the various cultural medias is the idea that there exists some people in the world who have it easy, and aren’t struggling their way through life. I’ve always thought of myself as someone who has mostly managed to fail upwards, which is probably the best outcome anyone can hope for. Even the billionaires claim to be having a real tough time getting through every day (although my advice to them would be to retire and let someone else get some money, because you guys have enough and at this point you’re just greedy).
An aphorism often (and perhaps falsely) attributed to the Buddha is “life is suffering”, which is one of those phrases that takes a while to sink in. In Buddhism this is called duhkha, which (to quote Wikipedia) “refers to the habitual experience of mundane life as fundamentally unsatisfactory and painful”.
Another fun one comes from William Shakespeare, in the form of what is probably the most famous English soliloquy where Hamlet contemplates suicide (which I’ve shortened below, read the full one here):
To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
The heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks
That Flesh is heir to? ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; aye, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause.
The lesson we can learn here is that suffering is a normal part of life. If you don’t feel as if you are suffering, then you’re exceptional and abnormal (and maybe a psychopath?). To have an expectation that you shouldn’t suffer is, at best, delusional.
I would go as far as to say that depression is a normal human response, especially in a world full of suffering and cruelty. I’d even say that the whole pharmaceutical industry built up around selling pills to increase the happy chemicals in our brains is unnatural, and possibly harmful.
The reason I use the term harmful to describe the myth of non-suffering is that it implicitly forces us onto a hedonic treadmill, which seems to mostly benefit those who are selling consumer goods. Perhaps with that knowledge we can free ourselves from the treadmill (or at least limit our time spent on it), once we’ve realized that buying a new gadget or whatever <thing> won’t increase our happiness.
It’s liberating, in my opinion, to understand that it’s okay to just enjoy life as it is, without needing to constantly strive for more money or whatever it might be. Just be present wherever you are now, no need to go to Burning Man or hop on a plane to Cancun and burn a bunch of jet fuel just to learn that this is as good as life gets.