Although hardship is a natural part of who we are, our history is as much about overcoming hardship as it is about anything else. We idealize a life of leisure, with all the obstacles removed, even though now that we live in a world in which technology has dramatically improved our quality of life we are no happier. We have simply removed physical hardships and created psychological hardships to replace them, driving enrollment in schools for counseling online and making self-help authors rich.
We’ve been coaxed into associating the idea of hardships with negatives. Because of this, we try to avoid hardship whenever we can, and when we see another person experiencing it we feel compassion and try to help them.
But we can’t think of hardship in terms of what it takes from us. We have to think of it in terms of what we get out it. Hardship makes us stronger, it compels action, and it forces us to work harder. It makes us more self reliant, reminds us of our capabilities, and allows us to feel our inner strength. In any hardship, there is a moment of pure magic when our mind shifts from suffering to surviving. That moment empowers us like nothing else.
But over time we’ve cut back the jungle and replaced it with a product forest; today our natural habitat is an economy. In that habitat there’s a gadget or gizmo for everything, and the marketers responsible for selling those gadgets and gizmos have created a collective obsession with comfort in order to keep us buying.
Now we surround ourselves with comforts. We work long hours to afford innumerable products; we violate our moral and ethical standards if we need to; we spend money on a hundred different things, all of which are designed to remove hardship from our lives in one way or another. In the end, physical hardship is gone, but in removing it we’ve weakened ourselves. When we’re weak we become susceptible to the kind of psychological torment that strong people don’t even notice.
Of course, we’ve all read about some multimillionaire’s struggle with depression with some level of incredulity, wondering how he could be depressed when he can afford anything he wants. The answer is that he could afford anything that he wants. As a result, he removed all the challenges from his life, and with them he stripped his life of meaning.
The meaning in our lives is found in motion, not in stasis. We are happy when we’re climbing to the next level, when we’re facing the next challenge, when we desire something that is just out of our reach. We thrive in moments of accomplishment, of course, but we can’t rest in those moments for long. We have to keep moving, creating obstacles that we can then overcome.
When we stop moving – if we sit still for too long or if we don’t have a good reason to put one foot in front of the other – we open ourselves up to the torments of the weak. The increase in enrollment numbers among schools for counseling online are a testament to just how much help we need.