Friday, March 30, 2012

Our Struggles Define Us

Life isn't easy.  But that is part of the deal.

You wake up in the morning when the alarm goes off.  You'd rather stay in bed for another hour, but you have to go to work.  So you get up, shower, shave and put on a suit, fight traffic and make it to the office, just on time, to spend another day struggling with deadlines, work, and your fellow colleagues.  It ain't easy.

And it is tempting, at times, to think about a life of leisure, sleeping every day until noon, not having to work, just goofing off, full time.  But that never seems to pan out.  And for the few people it does, it never quite works out like you'd think.  They sleep until noon, then eat all they want, never do any exercise, and then get fat as Elvis.   Since they sleep late, they can't get to bed at night, so they take pills, or like Michael Jackson, anesthesia.

No, a life of leisure, without purpose or work, is a life without meaning.

The major religions all promise us eternal life.  No thanks.  Eternal life would be boring as hell.   Why bother getting out of bed, when life goes on forever?  There is always a "tomorrow" that you could do things.  You would be massively depressed in no time.

Death gives meaning to life.   And those two things - our finite lives, and the struggles we make in life, are what make it interesting.  You can't appreciate life, without death.   You can't really enjoy leisure, until you've worked really, really hard.  Continuous life and continuous leisure would become boring in short order - which is why these rich suburban teenagers end up getting into legal trouble - they are bored with riches, leisure and ease, plain and simple.  So they go out and beat a homeless man to death for "fun."  And yes, it happens - a lot more than you'd think.

And yet, most people fear death and want to avoid work.  The very things that give their lives meaning, they don't want.  And the very things that would make their lives meaningless, they crave.  It is an interesting conundrum.

We have the highest standard of living in the world here in the USA (please, no comments about how great things are in Sweden, they have a 70% tax rate).  People in the US are wealthier than most folks in the world - and our country has more people with wealth - global wealth - than anywhere else.   A man on welfare in the USA is "wealthy" by global standards.

And yet, we are a nation of depressed people, always looking for a pill to pop or a drug to take.  Wallowing in self-pity and watching television all day long.  Why is this?

Well, for many, it is because their lives have no meaning - because they have no struggle in life.  They just sit around and consume.

Happy, well-adjusted people struggle - just enough to make life seem a challenge.   And this is why many retirees work - even if they don't "need" the money.   They want a challenge, something to do.  Others acquire hobbies, or take up golf, searching endlessly for that perfect drive, that 20-yard putt.  And maybe they never see that, but the chase is more important than winning.

In a way, this posting is the bookend to my previous one.  It illustrates why winning the lottery is not as good as you might thing.   Suddenly, everything you have struggled for in life is meaningless.  It is game over and nobody won.  There is no victory parade, no relishing the triumph of years of hard work and sacrifice.   Rather it is just the sudden wallowing in excess.

It is likely that of the tens of millions of people who bought powerball tickets today, only a few might win.   The rest of us should consider ourselves lucky.

Because our lives still have meaning.