Having studied philosophy, I have known many thinkers and philosophers who have wrestled on extracting or finding meaning – and HAPPINESS – out of the hardness of life, where struggles and challenges have become “sine qua non” (literally, “cannot be without”).
German existentialist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, in positing that humans suffer for a reason, argued that we can deduce meaningfulness or indicators of “good things” out of our struggles and suffering and thus attain our “greatness.”
Similarly, Arthur Schopenhauer (also a German philosopher) postulated that “suffering and misfortune are the general rule in life, not the exception.”
The Stoic philosophers encapsulated their view by saying that we should be indifferent to suffering as something morally irrelevant.
The humanists think that suffering grounds the possibility of ethics through compassion. Whilst, Christians see suffering as part of God’s salvific plan.
Then too, Austrian psychiatrist and author of “Man’s Search for Meaning,” declared: “Man’s main concern is not to gain pleasure or to avoid pain but rather to see meaning in his life.”
But, in our contemporary secular setting, given indeed that LIFE IS HARD, is there a way to find HAPPINESS?
I lately came across this recently-published (October 2022) book, “Life is Hard: How Philosophy Can Help Us Find Our Way,” authored by Kieran Setiya.
Setiya is a professor of philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and is known for his work in ethics, epistemology, and the philosophy of mind.
From his book (named Book of the Year by The New Yorker and The Economist magazines, Setiya offers some refreshing insights on how we can find our way to happiness amid the hardness of life.
Here are three insightful excerpts from his book:
1. Acknowledgment comes first
Given the undeniable fact that life in its entirety isn’t easy and that struggles and suffering are part and parcel of life, Setiya firstly exhorts that the first step in finding our way in life is acknowledging life’s adversity or affliction.
Paying attention – not denying – to what’s happening in our life is the better part of knowing what to do. Thus, Setiya quotes novelist-philosopher Iris Murdock: “I can only choose within the world I can see – in the moral sense, ‘see’ – moral imagination and moral effort.”
2. Don’t just aim to be happy, but aim to live well
For Setiya, being happy is not the same as living well. Happiness is a subjective state, while living well is living positively even amid grief or warts and all.
“The truth is that we should not aim to be happy but to live as well as we can. I don’t mean we should strive to be unhappy, or be indifferent to happiness, but there is more to life than how it feels. The unhappiness of grief or anger at injustice aren’t things we would be better off without. In living well, we cannot extricate justice from self-interest or divide ourselves from others. Our task is to face adversity as we should,” says Setiya.
In short, according to Setiya, we have to live in the world as it is, not the word as we wish it would be.
3. Value the process
Setiya points out that since life is always an ongoing work, if not a never-ending “work in progress,” happiness is found in each moment of the process – not in the completion of a goal or attaining the results.
“It’s not that results don’t matter, because they do. But if we invest in the process, what we value isn’t extinguished by our engagement with it; it isn’t archived or deferred, but fully realized in the present,” Setiya wrote.
Verily, in sum, life is not a destination but indeed a journey. Let’s live and savor each moment of the journey – and be happy!