Finding our way to happiness amid life’s difficulties

Finding our way to happiness amid life’s difficulties

In my study of philosophy, I have learned from a few thinkers and philosophers who wrestled with finding meaning—and, thus, happiness—in the hardness of life, whence struggles and challenges are “sine qua non” (literally, “cannot be without”).

The German existentialist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, in positing that humans suffer for a reason, argued that we can deduce meaningfulness or indicators of “good things” from our struggles and suffering, and eventually 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 and deem it something morally irrelevant.

The Humanists think that suffering grounds the possibility of ethics through compassion, while Christians see suffering as part of God’s salvific plan.

Viktor Frankl, the 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 came across this recently published book, “Life is Hard: How Philosophy Can Help Us Find Our Way,” authored by Kieran Setiya, a professor of philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Setiya is known for his work in ethics, epistemology, and the philosophy of mind.

In his book—which was 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:

Acknowledgment comes first. Given indeed the undeniable fact that life in its entirety is not easy and that struggles and suffering are sine qua non or part and parcel of life, Setiya states that the first step in finding our way in life is acknowledging life’s adversity or affliction.

Paying attention to—and not denying—what is happening in our life is the better part of knowing what to do. Thus, Setiya quotes novelist-philosopher Iris Murdoch: “I can only choose within the world I can see—in the moral sense, ‘see’—moral imagination and moral effort.”

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 do not mean we should strive to be unhappy, or to be indifferent to happiness, but there is more to life than how it feels. The unhappiness of grief and the anger at injustice are not 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 world as we wish it would be.

Value the process. Setiya points out that because life is always an ongoing work, if not a never-ending “work in progress,” happiness is found in each moment of the process—and not in the completion of a goal or the attainment of 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 writes.

In sum, life is not a destination but indeed a journey. Let us live and savor each moment of the journey—and be happy!

Read more: Let us embrace the 4 Ls of life

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.