Friday, July 14, 2017

Is Suffering Necessary To Get Ahead?


Some religions posit that suffering is part of life.   Is this true?


One of the critiques of many religions, including some forms of Christianity, is that they embrace suffering and deprivation.  Jesus died on the cross, suffering for our sins.   In some Christian cults, people flagellate or otherwise punish themselves to experience that suffering.

In the Muslim religion, during Ramadan, people are supposed to fast.   Catholics do this on Fridays.  Going without foods or going without certain foods is deemed to be a sacrifice that is good for both body and spirit.

Still others take vows of poverty or silence - doing without so they can clear their mind to concentrate on the spiritual and not the material.

It is an interesting concept, to be sure, and the idea of suffering, sacrifice, fasting, and other means of self-deprivation have been around for centuries - perhaps since the dawn of mankind.   Why is this? Is it part of our psyche?

I recounted before about a girlfriend I (briefly) went out with at GMI.   She had been in a horrific car wreck when her boyfriend flipped his '62 Chevy end-over-end after a night of partying.   She spent over a year in the hospital and rehabilitation with spinal injuries.   She said to me, "I would not wish that on anyone, Bob, but if you went through that, your perspective in life would be different."

And she was right.  I was a typical 19-year-old at the time, getting drunk and high and not taking life very seriously.   She was more mature not only in physical age (being a year older by dint of Canada's 13-year school system, as well as a year spent in hospital) but emotional age as well.   She knew, at an early age, that life could get very serious, very quickly, and that it was a very fragile thing.

In a way, it was like Franklin Roosevelt's struggle with Polio.   Before he came down with the illness, he was known as something of a fop and lightweight.   F.D. was said to stand for "Feather Duster" Roosevelt, a dandy and a ladies man, not to be taken seriously.   After Polio, he spent the rest of his life struggling to even stand, racked in pain.   Many wonder he became President not in spite of Polio, but because of it.

Later in life, as I started to have some health issues and experience real pain for the first time in my life, I remembered what she had said back then.  And pain, like deprivation, really focuses the mind in a real hurry.   You realize very quickly that happiness in life isn't about impressing the neighbors or having "stuff" to play with, but in experiences in life, as well as security and comfort.   When you realize that in a real hurry you can end up in a situation where you need comfort and security, you start to value that over living "paycheck to paycheck" so you can have cable TV and toys.

And that is one reason why older people do become more frugal and more conservative and less tolerant of the foolish nonsense of the younger generation.   Once your health starts to falter, and you see how fragile life it, you have less time for frivolity.

But beyond that, deprivation and sacrifice can, in and of themselves, be rewarding, as they fill a spiritual need, while at the same time improving your finances.

When I started this blog, we were trying to save money, and we started trying to "do without" things in our lives and find cheaper alternatives to the things we were doing.   For example, rather than go to Border's Books, and spend $19.95 on a new bestseller, we checked the same book out of the local library.   Rather than watch cable TV, we watched Netflix, or free movies from the library.   Rather than eat at restaurants, we made meals at home.  Rather than shop at the gourmet store, we found the same or similar foods at Walmart.

And you know what?  It was really, really fun.  It was a ball, in fact.   It is often more fun to do things on a budget and figure out tricks and tips to save money than to just lay down the almighty VISA card and ratchet ourselves up in debt some more.   A restaurant meal is more satisfying when you split an entree and keep the bill down.   Stuffing yourself until you are bloated and leaving knowing you spent too much is not nearly as good.

The best part was working together toward a goal, and seeing those goals materialize over time.  Realizing that we could do very well without a lot of stuff was also spiritually embracing.   Once you realize how little you need to live in this world, the urge to go out and make tons of money sort of, well, evaporates, or at least lessens to some extent.   It is comforting to know that, no matter what happens, you can get by.

Doing without is not worse than having it all, it often is better.   You feel better about yourself as a person and feel less like you are wallowing.   Folks who "have it all" are often the most unhappy people in the world.  Constant self-indulgence leaves the body and mind feeling bloated and over-fed, depressed and unhappy.

And the marketers and powers-that-be know this, which is why they want you to over-consume, squander your wealth, and then feel so depressed you will go out and buy more junk and junk food, in order to stave off the feeling of spiritual emptiness.  It becomes a never-ending hamster wheel of misery.

Less, indeed, is more.

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