“Pain comes to teach us a lesson and when the lesson is understood it disappears into the night.” – Mansfield
Sitting on my front porch, watching the sky light up with lightning I realised something. Everybody wants to feel good, but no one wants to feel pain. We all want to live a carefree, happy and easy life, to fall in love and have amazing relationships. To look perfect and make money, and be popular and well-respected and admired. Everyone would like that—it’s easy to like that.
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,” it’s so familiar and common it doesn’t even mean anything.
A more interesting question, a question that perhaps you’ve never considered before 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.
Everybody wants to have an amazing job and financial freedom but not everyone wants to suffer through long work weeks, long commutes, and boring paperwork. To navigate gruelling corporate hierarchies and the blasé confines of an infinite office hell. People want to be rich without the risk, without the sacrifice, without the delayed gratification necessary to accumulate wealth.
We all 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 morphs from “What if?” into “Was that it?”
Happiness requires struggle. The positive is the side effect of handling the negative. You can only avoid negative experiences for so long before they come roaring back to life. It’s like a cycle.
At the core of all human behaviour, our needs are more or less similar. Positive experience is easy to handle. It’s negative experience that we all, by definition, struggle with. Therefore, what we get out of life is not determined by the good feelings we desire, but by what bad feelings we’re willing and able to sustain to get us to those good feelings.
Bob Marley said “The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.” That quote rings true in many areas of life. You want that hot summer bod? You don’t end up with one unless you legitimately appreciate the pain and physical stress that comes with living inside a gym for hour upon hour, unless you love calculating the calories you eat, planning your life out in tiny plate-sized portions and no Nandos chicken.
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, and work insane hours on something you have no idea whether or not it will be successful. Ask Noah, when he build the ark, he introduced two phenomenons, rain and flood. Both had never been experienced before so the buy in to his idea was low. People had no idea what he was talking about so they were reluctant to help, but he didn’t consider that, he considered the goal.
Most 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. Or building the sexual tension that never gets released, and staring blankly at a phone that never rings because you have been friendzoned. It’s all part of the game of love. You can’t win if you don’t play.The quality of your life is not determined by the quality of your positive moments, but the quality of your negative moments. Tweet Me
What determines your success isn’t “What do you want to enjoy?” The question is, “What pain do you want to sustain?” The quality of your life is not determined by the quality of your positive moments, but the quality of your negative moments. And to get good at dealing with negative experiences is to get good at dealing with life. And there’s a lot of advice out there that says, “You’ve just got to want it enough!”
Truth is everybody wants something. And everybody wants something enough. They just aren’t aware of what it is they want, or rather, what they want “enough.” If you want the benefits of something in life, you have to also want the costs. If you want the beach bod, you have to want the sweat, the soreness, the early mornings, and the hunger pangs. You want the yacht, you have to also want the late nights, the risky business moves, and the possibility of pissing off one person or ten thousand.
If you find yourself wanting something month after month, year after year, yet nothing happens and you never come any closer to it, then maybe what you actually want is a fantasy. Maybe what you want isn’t what you want, you just enjoy wanting. Maybe you don’t actually want it at all. And this is a reality for most, thinking you want something yet your actions prove otherwise.
You can’t have a pain-free life. It can’t all be roses and unicorns. And ultimately that’s the hard question that matters. Pleasure is an easy question. And pretty much all of us have similar answers. The more interesting question is the pain. What is the pain that you want to sustain? It’s the question that can change your life. This is what makes me, me and you, you. It’s what defines and separates us, and ultimately brings us together.
In my book World War You, I write about wanting the reward and not the struggle. How we want the result and not the process. And how we are in love not with the fight, but only the victory but life doesn’t work that way.
Choose the pain first, the reward will make more sense then. As always, hope you and yours are safe.
PS. This article contains expanded excerpts from the book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck: A Counterintuitive Guide to Living A Good Life