Problems: A Common Denominator
Do you ever feel like life is a constant struggle?
Of course you do. Life is a constant struggle, and this is true whether you’re a person living with addiction, a tree growing in a shaded understory, or a free-floating amoeba dodging predators left, right and centre.
Heck, even celebrities who can afford all sorts of comforts and luxuries through their extravagant wealth have their own struggles. There is nobody alive in this world who doesn’t have problems.
And yet, when problems present themselves in our lives, they can be so all-consuming and isolating that we feel like the only ones with a problem. In fact, problems are something we all share in common.
There’s No Such Thing As A Life Without Problems
In his hilarious book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Mark Manson comes up with an outlandish character that he calls the Disappointment Panda, a sort of talking animal antihero whose superpower is telling people harsh truths. He imagines the panda going door to door to give people the sort of advice “that none of us would want but all of us would need.”
Among these harsh and inconvenient truths, the panda drops these words of wisdom:
“We suffer for the simple reason that suffering is biologically useful. It is nature’s preferred agent for inspiring change… You may salivate at the thought of a problem-free life full of everlasting happiness and eternal compassion, but back here on earth the problems never cease.”
Could it be that problems are a necessary part of existence? Manson certainly seems to think so. But this dismal truth does have a silver lining. According to Manson, problems are more than just an inconvenience; they represent an endless opportunity for growth, and even a path to happiness.
According to Manson, growth and happiness comes from solving problems, though many of us squander this opportunity in two major ways:
Firstly, we may deny that a problem exists, deluding or distracting ourselves from reality and ignoring the problem altogether. Secondly, we may take a victim mentality for the problems we face, blaming others and not reacting to the problems in a way that will foster growth, as we don’t truly accept them as our problems.
According to Manson, these two approaches may feel good in the short term but ultimately lead to a life of anger, insecurity, helplessness, and emotional repression. It is only by facing the problems in our life that we can truly grow and find happiness.
“Upgrading” your problems
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck is a self-help book, albeit a slightly unorthodox one. As such, it is loaded with takeaways, and what you’re about to read is among the most valuable gems that this book offers.
While problems are an inevitable part of life, choosing which problems we engage with is one of the most powerful things we can do. This is where the title gets its meaning, namely that the problems we engage with (the f*cks that we give) are a driving force of meaning and purpose in our lives.
According to Manson, “Self-improvement is really about: prioritizing better values, choosing better things to give a fuck about. Because when you give better fucks, you get better problems. And when you get better problems, you get a better life.”
Upgrading your problems is all about taking low-quality problems and reimagining them with higher value. For example, imagine somebody who just moved to a new city and is newly in recovery. This person may see themselves as having the following problems:
- How am I ever going to meet people?
- How long will it take until I feel like I belong here?
- Did I make the wrong decision in moving here?
- How do I avoid the desire to use substances?
Alternatively, the situation could be reimagined through questions like these:
- What are some things I might enjoy doing here?
- What are some support resources for people in recovery where I live?
- What are some meaningful ways I can contribute to the local community?
- What are some alternative things I can do when I feel the need to use substances?
Both sets of questions are based on the same situation; the first set of questions will probably lead to the person feeling sorry for themselves, while the second set will surely be more conducive to growth and positive experiences. So, why not choose the second set, rather than the first?
To put it in the poetic words of Mark Manson, “No matter where you go, there’s a five-hundred-pound load of shit waiting for you. And that’s perfectly fine. The point isn’t to get away from the shit. The point is to find the shit you enjoy dealing with.”
In other words, the problems that we choose may have a bigger impact than the things we enjoy or the skills that we cultivate, as problems tend to provide opportunities for growth. By choosing our problems intentionally, our growth becomes intentional as well.
Ionatan Waisgluss is a writer, educator and web developer living in the qathet region of British Columbia. He is the founder of SquareByte.ca