If I ask you, “What do you want out of life?” and you say something like, “I want to be happy and have a great family and a job I like,” your response is so common and expected that it doesn’t really mean anything.
Everybody enjoys what feels good. Everyone wants to live a carefree, happy, and easy life, to fall in love and have amazing sex and relationships, to look perfect and make money and be popular and well-respected and admired and a total baller to the point that people part like the Red Sea when they walk into the room.
EVERYBODY wants that. It’s easy to want that.
A more interesting question, a question that most people never consider, is, “What pain do you want in your life? What are you willing to struggle for?” Because that seems to be a greater determinant of how our lives turn out.
For example, most people want to get the corner office and make a boatload of money – but not many people want to suffer through sixty-hour work weeks, long commutes, obnoxious paperwork, and arbitrary corporate hierarchies to escape the confines of an infinite cubicle hell.
Most people want to have great sex and an awesome relationship, but not everyone is willing to go through the tough conversations, the awkward silences, the hurt feelings, and the emotional psychodrama to get there. And so they settle. They settle and wonder, “What if?” for years and years, until the question becomes “What else?” And when the lawyers go home and the alimony check is in the mail, they say, “What for?” If not for their lowered standards and expectations twenty years prior, then what for?
Because HAPPINESS REQUIRES STRUGGLE. It grows from problems. Joy doesn’t just sprout out of the ground like daisies and rainbows. Real, serious, lifelong fulfillment and meaning have to be earned through the choosing and managing of our struggles. Whether you suffer from anxiety or loneliness or obsessive-compulsive disorder or a dickhead boss who ruins half of your waking hours every day, the solution lies in the acceptance and active engagement of that negative experience – not the avoidance of it, not the salvation from it.
People want an amazing physique. But you don’t end up with it unless you legitimately appreciate the pain and physical stress that come with living inside a gym for hours, unless you love calculating and calibrating the food you eat, planning your life out in tiny plate-sized portions.
People want to start their own business. But you don’t end up a successful entrepreneur unless you find a way to appreciate the risk, the uncertainty, the repeated failures, the insane hours devoted to something that may earn absolutely nothing.
People want a partner, a spouse. But you don’t end up attracting someone amazing without appreciating the emotional turbulence that comes with weathering rejections, building the sexual tension that never gets released, and staring blankly at a phone that never rings. It’s part of the game of love. You can’t win if you don’t play.
What determines your success isn’t, “What do you want to enjoy?” The relevant question is “What pain do you want to sustain?” The path to happiness is a path full of shitheaps and shame.
You have to choose something. You can’t have a pain-free life. It can’t all be roses and unicorns all the time. Pleasure is the easy question. And pretty much all of us have a similar answer.
The more interesting question is the pain. What is the pain that you want to sustain? That’s the hard question that matters, the question that will actually get you somewhere. It’s the question that can change a perspective, a life. It’s what makes me, me and you, you. It’s what defines us and separates us and ultimately brings us together.