Take Your Time: If Your Life Is ‘Perfect', You've Got Nowhere To Go
I had an interesting thought last night. Ok, yes, it could have been because of my medium-to-heavy drinking. But I stand by my conclusion even during my hangover today.
So, my booze-epiphany — booziphany, if you will — was this: Human beings are meant to suffer. We're meant to live difficult lives. Yes, some lives are objectively more difficult than others. But even the people we perceive as living “the good life” have problems.
We need to be careful with how we define suffering. Usually when we talk about the suffering of individuals, we're referring to the state of being in immense pain and distress or of undergoing severe hardship.
But suffering comes in all shapes and sizes. The pain felt from stubbing your toe, for example, technically falls under the umbrella of suffering. But this isn't the sort of suffering that I'm talking about.
I'm more interested in the suffering that individuals make for themselves. Forget about killing their livers with a bottle of whiskey. People will forever suffer simply because suffering is in their nature.
The way that we see and understand the world has to do with suffering. As long as people's lives stretch beyond basic hand-to-mouth existence, there's no way to avoid heartbreak.
I hope this doesn't depress you, because it honestly shouldn't. For one, you can't avoid it. There's no point of allowing yourself to suffer, because you know that you have no choice. Also, most of our suffering is minimal.
Most of our suffering comes from everyday disappointments, friction in our relationships, and the occasional unpleasant surprise that life manages to toss at us.
Some of you will argue that these sorts of things shouldn't even be called suffering. You're right. We would be better off if we didn't allow the most trivial things to cause us pain. But who are we kidding? That'll never happen.
We'll always be bothered by little things, like not being able to find a parking spot and arriving late to work, or waking up and being disappointed that the weatherman got it wrong again. (It's not warm and sunny; it's cold and wet.)
People get excited when they imagine their expectations being met. When it doesn't happen, they're disappointed. But what you need to understand is that we will always find a way to suffer — no matter how many issues we solve, how comfortable we make ourselves, or how calm our lives become.
We experience the world relatively. Anything is only as good or as bad as everything else that we've already experienced.
Because you consider your personal reality to be the only one of importance, your lows are bad only because they're your experience of what “low” is. The same goes for your highs.
Take love, for example. Getting turned down by your high school crush surely hurt; it may have even felt like heartbreak.
Later, you actually fell in love and experienced heartbreak. All of a sudden, you redefined what it meant to be in love and to feel pain.
Yes, you suffered when your first crush turned you down. But you suffered more when the first person you loved broke your heart. In retrospect, we can decide that what happened in high school wasn't heartbreak.
In the moment, it still hurt like hell. The experience pushed the boundaries we'd mapped out at the time. Until that point, it was the most painful thing we had ever experienced.
The smallest finger prick — if it's our first experience of pain — defines suffering for us. We think of every pain after this as “better” or “worse” than the first.
There is one reason in particular that we suffer. This is true for just about every single person in the world. We suffer because we want a perfect life, but we fail to ever attain it.
We may understand that perfection is an impossibility. We may fully comprehend how futile our aims are. But that doesn't change the fact that we're still going to hope for it.
We're going to aim for perfection because we feel that there is nothing more fulfilling. Perfection is, quite literally, perfect. It's the highest possible high. It means not wanting or needing anything. It's the absence of suffering in any way, shape, or form.
In reality, perfection is ridiculous. And it's harmful, to boot.
If your life were perfect, you'd have nowhere to go in life. You'd have nothing that you felt you needed to do or accomplish. You'd have no needs or wants. Sure — without the idea of perfection, you couldn't suffer.
You couldn't fail to fulfill a need that didn't exists. You'd exist, but you'd no longer be you. You wouldn't be human.
Perfection is impossible, and suffering is inevitable. But here's the good news: You'll be fine. You'll manage. You'll live your life and, as long as you're wise, you'll live it well.
You'll experience moments that break your heart and spirit. But that's only because you'll also have memories that lift your spirits, that make you believe that all of the dark times were worth it.
You can't avoid suffering, but you can choose what sends you spiraling into despair. You'll never attain perfection, but for the rest of your life you can enjoy failing to capture it. But it's your choice. You need to decide if you're suffering for the right reasons. It's the only way to be happy.
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