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Why is life so hard? I think there are several reasons, but before we get into them, we have to define what it is about life that’s so hard in the first place.
Life can be broadly broken down into a few different aspects:
There’s probably more, but these 6 categories will work in a general sense.
For all of us, we have to have some measure of each of these 6 things. They sometimes overlap—something healthy, like going to the gym, can also be fun, or you can find meaning in work.
But for many, many people, these things don’t overlap.
Take me for instance. My work is in marketing. I’m a content writer.
I find zero meaning in this work.
It certainly doesn’t improve my health—I sit in a chair all day.
It’s definitely not fun.
While some people can definitely fall in love with their work instead of a person or a pet, I do not love my work.
There is nothing spiritually fulfilling about the work for me.
So it fulfills one category for me. That means, ironically, that I have to work harder than others to have a life that I consider “good” because a job that I love didn’t just fall into my lap.
There’s a nice little example of why life is so hard—these things don’t always line up.
That all being said, my life is good. It’s really good compared to other people’s lives.
Imagine that you live in Syria and you’re surrounded by war.
Health might be the only thing you’re worried about because every day is a struggle to stay alive.
Does that mean my experience doesn’t count? That any suffering I do or do not experience as a result of not liking my work is meaningless?
I don’t think so, but it’s important for us to consider.
Why Is Life So Hard? Remember That Everything Is Relative
What’s hard in your life might seem like a perfect life to someone else. Someone who is starving to death is going to envy poor people in this country who are overweight because they can only afford low-quality food (but at least they’re not starving constantly).
But just because someone else’s life is harder than yours doesn’t mean that your life is easy.
Your experience is your experience, and it shouldn’t be discounted.
When I had serious depression, I would try to remind myself that my life was objectively good and that I had good things in my life, but that didn’t make me not depressed.
If you’re suffering, you’re suffering—that’s all there is to it.
If you suffering from minor low back pain that you can get rid of through stretches and exercises, it doesn’t matter if it’s something you can treat—if it’s making you suffer, then you’re probably going to think that life is kind of hard.
If you are surrounded by people in loving relationships and you are alone, you’re probably going to suffer, and it doesn’t matter if you at least have a pet to love—if you can’t get past the lack of a physical human relationship in your life, you’re not going to feel okay.
Part of what makes life so hard is the fact that it is relative. We look at ourselves not through the lens of someone who is starving to death in another country but through the lens of our neighbors.
It’s a beautiful idea to think that we can be grateful and see that our life is objectively better than others, but that’s really, really hard to do.
So we have to remember that everything is relative and that we’re not bad people for wanting a relationship, for wanting to not have low back pain, for wanting to feel spiritually fulfilled, etc.
Beyond that, we have to think about our origins as a species to see why life is so hard.
The World We’ve Built Isn’t the World We Evolved for—And Neither Are Perfect
Worse than this, the world that we’ve built is infinitely better than the world our ancestors were born into tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of years ago.
Think about this—if we go back just a few million years before anything resembling us was alive, life was nothing but a struggle between the creatures that might eat you and the creatures you wanted to eat.
That’s it. And if you’re a plant, you’re basically screwed because almost everything eats you (unless you become a huge tree—and even then other trees might block out your light and kill you, or some vines, or some bugs, or some fungus…).
Basically, the world was a violent place.
And guess what? It still is.
Why Is Life so Hard? Because We’re Not That Far Away From Kill or Be Killed
That’s one major reason that life is so hard—the world was quite literally a place of kill-or-be-killed until maybe 10,000 years ago.
Why was the world like that? You’d have to ask the gods, if they exist. Otherwise, there is no answer—that’s just the way the world was.
When we finally started to whip the world into shape, we had literally billions of years of violence in our ancestry to overcome.
We still haven’t overcome it.
Violence is generational. There is no escaping it in this world. All the different societies across the Earth have tried very, very hard to limit violence, but there’s no way to get rid of it.
If you eat meat, you live an inherently violent life (something else dies so that you can live). If you eat plants, you live an inherently violent life (again, something else dies so that you can live).
And yes, even if the plants don’t die totally and you’re just harvesting parts of them, that probably hurts like hell for the plant—they just don’t have a mouth to scream.
So we evolved for a life of violence.
And here we are living in a society that’s still violent.
But when it’s not violent directly, there is indirect suffering as a result of the things we have to do to get around the violence.
For example, instead of having everyone fight, literally, over resources, we instead created economics. Now if you want something, you can work a job instead of having to knock your neighbor over the head and take his meat or his farm.
So the direct violence of the previous world that we evolved for isn’t happening, but now we have this new form of suffering—surprising no one, not everyone loves their job.
Something like 70% of people hate their jobs (or at least just don’t like them much). So yeah, they’re not dying, but the way they’re living isn’t great because they’re spending the majority of their waking hours doing something they don’t like to do.
Starting to see why life is so hard?
Think About Those 6 Aspects of Life
Life can break down in any or all of those areas, and that leads to suffering.
You might have a job that sucks and takes up all your free time, which means you have no time for fun, no time to grow spiritually, no time for loving relationships, no time to take care of your body….
That’s just one way this whole thing can fall apart. People kill themselves all the time because they’re miserable at work and have no way out of what feels like an impossible work situation.
If you’ve got a lot of debt and a family that needs money and support, you might have to work a job that kills you inside and out, and for some people, that’s enough to consider and/or commit suicide.
We shouldn’t pretend like this is selfish or ridiculous or weak. That doesn’t fix anything. We should acknowledge that life is hard because society, as great as it is, still hasn’t fixed the basic problem that we all have—everything is limited.
It’s easy to say that there’s love out there for everyone, but there are millions of lonely people in the world whose existence proves otherwise.
It’s easy to say that there’s a job for everyone in the world, but the millions of unemployed prove otherwise.
It’s easy to say that health can be had by anyone, but all the people living in a country that’s at war, all the people starving, all the people with curable diseases that can’t afford to get them cured, they would say otherwise.
It goes on and on.
If life was made by a god, it was deliberately made to be hard—I know this because I can think of a handful of solutions off the top of my head that would relieve immense amounts of suffering.
You know, like not having viruses for example.
So we are left with the conclusion that, if there is a god, the way it operates is strange to say the least and doesn’t seem inclined to relieve human suffering on its own, and that if there isn’t a god, then suffering is just a part of life that it’s basically impossible to get away from.
If suffering is a part of life that we can’t get away from (and in either scenario, it is—and if you just look around the world, you’ll see that it is), then we are left with the obvious conclusion that life is just going to be hard.
And that’s not really okay, but at least there’s something we can do about it.
We can try.
It takes work to build a career, to find love, to find meaning in life, to grow spiritually.
If you really boil it down, life is work, even when it comes to fun—some people have to work hard at having fun because it doesn’t come naturally to them.
Whether we accept or reject this doesn’t really matter—the world isn’t going to change just because we don’t like the way it works.
After writing all that, I’m not sure I’ve come up with a reason why life is so hard. It sort of just is.
So we can accept that and work within the parameters of the world we have (because we’re sure not getting another one any time soon). And if we do that, we can possibly find ways to make life not so hard.
Or we can reject it—and that has its own set of consequences.
I’ve said enough. I’m more interested in what you think.
Why do you think life is so hard?
Let me know in the comments.