My wife recently gave birth to a baby boy. Everything changed. Well, not everything. I’m still the same dude but only this time, I have to take care of another person besides me and my wife. Or it’s the other way around? I don’t know, ask her. But that’s irrelevant right now. What I want to say is that as a caring father, I don’t want any sort of pain to come even close to my son. To achieve that, and to protect our son from the hazards of the outside world, we bought all sorts of baby oils, we read different books about nursing a baby, we watched videos on the topic, and we carefully arranged pillows around our son like a fortress every time we have to leave him alone for a few seconds to make sure that he won’t fall and bump his head. And while these things are all good, I also know that overprotecting my child and not exposing him to any form of pain will only make him weak.
I’m not saying to intentionally hurt him. That’s really fucked up. I’m saying that a child needs to grow with the correct understanding of the world. To realize that not everything is soft pillows, fluffy toys, vacations, sleeping till noon, hugs, kisses, themed photoshoots, parties every month, stacks and stacks of toys.
At some point, I have to explain to my son that life – at least life where you accomplish meaningful stuff – is filled with neverending obstacles. To tell him that in order to become a good person and to accomplish his dreams, sort to speak, he should face the difficulties that are coming his way and embrace the pain. By doing so, he’ll grow stronger. Yes, I’m probably going to ruin his afternoon nap but I know it’s going to be for the best.
Unfortunately, that’s going to be really hard for me to present. Partly because I don’t know how to communicate this with my son – he’s only 6 months old while I write this and I can’t speak baby language. But the other part it’s something out of my control. The world defaults for laziness and nowadays it’s really popular to do nothing.
Why Say Life Is Pain?
Buddha famously said that life is suffering. While I’m not a Buddhist and I don’t really know what he meant by that – I have only a general idea. His anecdote (probably) refers to the fact that there’s nothing permanent in life and that both great success and great pain are subject to change. Therefore, if you want to improve and keep acquiring more wealth, knowledge and territory, it will require everlasting efforts that are surely not going to be joyful.1
Isn’t life all about good sensations, traveling, clothes, and Instagram fame?
It can be. But if you want to live a meaningful life and to create something others will benefit from, you need to constantly push yourself – beyond your current limits.
Even if you overcome the current obstacles in front of you and you reach a state where you feel good about yourself, this will change. The same is with success.
If you’re the best in your field and you get too comfortable with yourself you’ll soon be outperformed by driven youngsters who don’t mind getting a shit load of pain. Everything fades and changes. Leading to new obstacles and new doses of pain and suffering.
But since sadness, pain, and hopelessness don’t sell well in stores, the world created a different narrative about how the average person should spend his daily life.
The Modern Lie That We Should Have a Good Time All The Time
Imagine an ad online that states the following: “We’ll make sure you’ll receive regular doses of pain because Buddha said so.” Or, a waffle commercial that states something like this: “Our crunchy waffle testes like shit, just like life. Dear to eat one?” Besides the masochists who enjoy all sorts of suffering and some internet trolls that will buy these things so they can troll some more, there won’t be a lot of customers.
That’s why marketing firms are presenting their product as the savior. The never-seen merch that will transform your life and make everything nice and cozy.
At least that’s what I noticed.
After reading and watching hundreds of commercials online and on TV – because they are everywhere – I’ve come to the conclusion that the general idea behind all of the ads can be boiled down to, “Life is painful! Go buy our product. It will numb the pain and make you feel good.”
Every single commercial uses this framework. Why? Because it works.
Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” William Goldman
The Two Cycles in Life: The Cycle of Pleasure and The Cycle of Pain
We’re really sophisticated creatures. We can think. We can cooperate. We can learn quickly. We can analyze the situation. But at the core of our existence lies something really basic. We really care only about one thing: to feel good about ourselves.
We easily adapt in order to survive. We can live with $10 per day and we can also live with $1,000. Hell, we can even survive without earning a dime.2
But merely surviving is not cool. Nor feels good. That’s why we buy all the fancy gadgets humanity has to offer and we hashtag and share every damn experience we get to experience.
You just bought a car? Sure. Share it online.
You’re about to board on a plane to fly off the Caribbean for the summer? No doubt. The world should know about this. Just make sure you attach all appropriate hashtags.
You just cut your hair? Marvelous! Don’t hide it. Tell everybody.
Society tells you that you need to feel good all the time. If for some reason you’re not having the greatest freaking time of your life, then you need to go shop around. There is surely something out there that will make you feel better, go find it.
But even if you are not sure about whether the product will work, take it. It will definitely reduce the pain and actually make you feel good. But there is a catch. That good feeling won’t last forever. In most cases, actually, it will last just a couple of seconds. That’s why you need to repeat this cycle again and again.
In contrast, if you keep wrestling obstacles, if you keep waking up early, if you keep getting up no matter the setbacks, you’ll get better at what you do. Yes, it will be painful and tough but that’s what you need to do if you want to stay on top of your game.
Considering the above two paragraphs, we can distinguish two different cycles: The Cycle of Pleasure and The Cycle of Pain.
While the first one is what everyone’s aiming for, the second one is the sequence you really want to go after.
The Cycle of Pleasure
Thanks to our ancestors, innovators, and modern entrepreneurs, we can now live a life that’s way better than the richest kings ever lived in the past.
There is a product or a service for everything!
You don’t quite like how your carpet feels? You can go to the nearest mall to find the best combination of softness and warmth to make sure you’re 103% satisfied with how your feet will feel when stepping on top of this giant piece of wool.
You don’t like where you live? No worries. Just take a loan and go live somewhere else.
You don’t like any of your clothes? Well, of course not. Fashion changes in the speed of light. Go buy something from the local store and make sure you tell everybody.
Your toe is bruised because you accidentally hit the table? You can buy an ointment and take some pills from the drug store to feel better.
A person living by The Cycle of Pleasure rejects all sorts of pain. He’s convinced that pain is only for the stupid and the poor. And since he graduated from school, he’s to enjoy life to the fullest and to have regular doses of dopamine that make him feel awesome all the time. If there is even a slight chance of experiencing boredom, he’ll go online and get a product that will protect him from this agonizing inconvenience that will potentially occur in the future.
For example, if such a person wants to lose weight he’ll buy pills, not sign up for a gym membership.
If he’s bored, he won’t read a book, he’ll enter hardcore stream mode and watch all the seasons of Friends for 24 hours because why not.
The only problem here is that, no matter what you do, you’ll be only 99% satisfied. There is always something better. There is always something missing. “Oh man, I just bought a new house. It’s awesome. Well, there are a couple of things I don’t quite like but since the bank didn’t lend me an extra 100,000 I had to settle for this one. Man, If I could only buy that other home. Everything would be tip-top.”
And we do that all the time. Even if we’re satisfied with our house, we’ll find something else that’s not as awesome as we would wish. That’s why we continue to chase more experiences, we buy more things and we share more stuff online. We do these things because we believe, wholeheartedly, that life should feel good all the time. And when things don’t go as planned we start chasing other things that numb the pain for a short while. When the effect wears off, even before that, we seek for other good things, and then others… and the wheel spins.
This cycle continues forever till we’re broke, in jail, or till we die with an apartment full of stuff we once thought will transform our lives and make us feel handy-dandy.
But there’s an alternative to the above? Yet, not so pleasant.
The Cycle of Pain
Let’s be realistic. Our mere existence is painful. We don’t get enough sleep. We drive for an hour in each direction to do a job we hate and if we want to look better in shorts, we need to deprive ourselves of chocolate cookies and milkshakes.
This sucks. That’s why there aren’t a lot of people participating in The Cycle of Pain.
Here’s lonely, sweaty, and quiеt. Most folks in this club are too busy to tweet and too tired to shop around for bullshit products. These guys and girls are obsessed with making the world a better place and are not afraid of a few broken bones and regular portions of agony. But they keep going no matter what. They know that there’s an inseparable correlation between pain and life.
Gold medalists know that only by working harder than the previous year can they improve their performance and stay on top.
Great writers know that after they finish a book, they have to start another. Even when they have no idea what they are going to write.
Ultra-marathon runners experience severe pain in their feet and often lose their toenails. But they keep going and keep signing up for more runs.
But don’t get confused, these folks also feel insecurity, doubt and often the amount of pain is unbearable. But they accept that. They tell themselves to keep going because what they do matters for them and in a lot of occasions matters for the world. But most importantly, they know that pain helps them grow. It makes them stronger and it helps them feel more comfortable in uncomfortable situations.
You might be thinking, “Why the hell should I want to be a part of this freakshow? I want to sleep and have a good time. Like, all the time! Now, give me some fries and let me Instagram that shit!”
That’s why this club is not for everyone. We’re programmed to seek comfort. To save energy and to consume food all the time because our body wants to ensure that there’s enough fat in the body in case we’re left alone on a small island with nothing to eat. Or simply because we don’t have the discipline to stop evaporating dishes. That’s why it’s so lonely in the painful club.
Self-discipline is not a quality many people possess. Especially nowadays. It’s difficult to think and act clearly when we are drowning in information and when new products that say that they’ll save our life – but don’t actually – are emerging every 5 seconds.
Nevertheless, discipline and hard work are the only things that will help feel good in your own skin.
Some Closing Thoughts
If we remove all the obstacles from our lives and replace them with cozy blankets, soft pillows, and sugary cakes, we’ll become lazy sons-of-bitches with no aim and no desire for something better.
Our life will be measured by the number of likes and followers we have online.
In contrast, if we accept that a good life consists of pain and struggle, and if we keep going no matter the difficulties, we’ll grow.
We’ll get better and we’ll improve. If we keep doing this long enough – like till we’re dead and buried – we might even inspire some people along the way. But more importantly, we might spark a desire for continuous improvement in our children.
A noble cause, I think.
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Join Going Further: A 13-day email series on how to keep progressing in a world tirelessly pushing toward regression. Great for people who feel stuck in the endless loop of not doing.
- Buddha actually said, dukkha, not “life is suffering.” Which means a lot of things. After all, he didn’t speak English. You can read more about the translation of this work in the following link: LINK.
- You don’t have to read a scientific paper to get the idea, you can simply watch this video: Earning $11,000 vs. $60 in a Day.