We spend so much of our lives either in pain and hardship, or in fear of pain and hardship. We dread the first sign of illness, we lament our lack of time and money, we try hard not to think of that inevitable day when either we or our loved ones will die. It seems so easy to find something new to worry about or fear. It seems so hard to see life as perfect. What is the solution to all this? Can we transform our attitude towards life?
Although our lives are defined by the search for the “good” and the avoidance of the “bad”, there is really nothing in life that is inherently good or bad. Such notions are relative – the “good” cannot exist unless we can contrast it with the “bad”. It is easy to conceive of lives much easier than our own, just as it is easy to conceive of lives much harder. Thus, there is no way to say whether our lives are easy or hard. What is more important is how we relate to our so-called hardships.
When we go to the gym to lift weights, we likely experience a lot of pain. However, this pain does not bother us because we know that the harder we push ourselves, the stronger we become. We see the pain is a good thing, taking pleasure in our ability to push ourselves further and experience greater hardships. Similarly, if we were to climb a high mountain, we would enjoy the struggle involved – it would give us a feeling of accomplishment and pride. It becomes a challenge.
What is it that makes such striving a source of enjoyment and accomplishment? The key difference is that sense that we have taken it on voluntarily. If a student sets herself a goal, such as taking 10 courses in a semester, she enjoys the challenge and relishes the difficulties. On the other hand, if she were forced to take this many courses, she has a different attitude. She may complain and feel that she were being treated unfairly. To enjoy life’s hardships, we must stop resisting them and stop seeing them as unfair. We must embrace the situation, and take pleasure in the difficulties.
It is not enough to merely climb the hills – we must come to love the hills. When we take on challenges with this attitude, whatever the situation may be, the difficulties no longer bother us. It does not make the pain go away, and life does not become suddenly easy. However, by fostering that sense of challenge and adventure, we give up that limiting belief that life is supposed to be easy. Instead of pining for something easier, we learn to enjoy the parts that are hard.
Featured in The Seventeenth Edition of the Carnival of Improving Life.