Life is difficult.
This is a great truth … because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.
M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled
Even among those who seek greater happiness and a better life – or even those who seek to “change the system” and “save the planet” – comfort rules.
Happiness is sought in ever-more of the same consumption, all too often of shopping for stuff, aiming for more. Not all that rarely, it is recognized that more stuff does not really make happy, but it is replaced only by a chase after ever-greater experiences – and they again end up just being consumed one after another, pre-packaged, without much consideration of their greater impact on the world and on life (and life satisfaction).
Concern about greater impacts of our doings on the world, unfortunately, also tends to remain in ever-more-of-the-same. Protest and activism against environmental destruction and unsustainable activities is often directed against particularly prominent examples. That is understandable, but in doing so, it just takes the easy route of assigning blame to others while the involvement of all of us, including the protesters, is hardly changed.
Personal lifestyle changes may easily be all the worse in just adding a green veneer to lives of overconsumption and unhappiness, trying to feel good about the little personal steps taken by buying fair-trade and organic things while continuing to drive to work, fly on vacation, and avoid thinking about the wider ramifications of such a way of life.
Really, changes to better ways, and better ways themselves, are not so convenient and easy…
They may actually imply giving up on some things, after all. They also mean walking into the unknown. Having to do more, work harder, become better.
In that, though, they avoid the stale convenience of contemporary normality barely made bearable by the trance of TV shows and “fun.” They escape from the wait for worse that has become so commonplace. They do not fall prey to the struggle for affluence that delivers not much more than “the horror of answered prayers, a peasant’s greedy dream of development” (as Paul Theroux described modern China).
Rather, they are really, eco-logically and happily, better.
How so? Exactly by being harder, in a way. Not, though, the hardship that is all too common nowadays, where relative poverty is just as desperate a situation as a life of affluence, because both make the people living them mere playthings of greater forces, rather than human beings capable of changing things.
After all, agency and self-efficacy, the feeling that we ourselves are actually shaping things and having some influence on the course of our lives, is easily the most dangerously missing part of modern existences. We need to provide enough for ourselves and ours, and preferably “producing” it – whether that be by farming, begging, or through jobs – but we also need the feeling that it’s ourselves having influence on that. We need that feeling as much as we need to breathe.
To be fully human, we need sense as much as we need mere existence. Then, we can choose to enjoy the free time and the pleasures of having enough – the dolce far niente – or we can go on and aim for more and better.
Modernity has come to be defined by providing ever more comforts and amenities, by the replacement of daily drudgery working to keep things going – cleaning, cooking, social eating at particular times, having to deal with awkward conversation partners… – with conveniences that just have to be bought.
There are good sides, no doubt – but in the process, too much skillful living has been replaced by mindless consuming, and it is costing us both our happiness and the world.
So, when there is a suggestion of better ways that are more work, the common reaction is rejection – but really, what we need is to become more active again, to remember that life is not about avoiding all its labors and pains, but about living realistically.
You accept that responsibility, you also take up the power to effect change and create better.
It may be high time for a Winston Churchill moment of “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” … Or maybe Martin Luther King: “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”
Hard happiness is something different, though, for it is not blood, toil, tears, and sweat, nor sacrifice, suffering, and struggle, but rather the hard – and true – happiness of a life lived skillfully and purposefully, sensually and sensibly.
So, do you want to keep living in comfortable numbness that makes easy jobs hard and unsatisfying, and sweet doing-nothing hardly enjoyable, all while shaping a dubious, dangerous future? Or will you be in the forefront, get started, lead the ways – or at least, follow when you see examples that show #ecohappy better to work, creating happier and eco-logically better ways and opening up promising futures?