The Cost of Living

If you ask someone to sum up his or her perspective on life, you will often discover a quote that they have stored away for the occasion. Truism, conclusion. Life is complex, but dealing with it need not be. Indeed, the subjectivity of individual perspectives on life is strongly evidenced in the sweeping statements we make about it, and I believe that these perspectives are closely correlated with hardship. Strike that—I believe they are closely correlated with the type of hardship that we experience.

I have often felt that my life is not hard enough. Everyone who lives comfortably in North America has had these thoughts: I turn on the tap, and water comes out. I work for less than one hour, and I can buy enough food to last me a day. Either I should be happier, or my life should be harder. Yet despite how much higher our standard of living is compared with the world’s population, we are not proportionally happier. Moreover, we are surprisingly unsurprised by this fact. How do we explain it away? We are aware that many people groups do not chase after the same things as us, but we imagine that they would, if they were enlightened. After all, we have the power to chase after what they have—but we do not.

There is a certain measure of condescension in our pity for those who experience hardship. I have heard many people espouse a philosophy of life revolving around fun and games, so long as nobody is harmed in the process. But for most people, life is not about fun and games. It is true that many around the world would like to live like us, but there are also many people who do not even aspire to fun and games as we do; such activities are mere windows into a warm place full of significance. We suffer long days of depression, feel a lack of purpose or self-actualization, and suffer over our dreams. We are full of meaning, and we struggle to find containers to stow it in. Nobody who has lived a harder life is bound by these things, and even in those aspects of our own lives that have been difficult, we are free. I was rather poor as a child, and since my adolescence I have never felt that I lacked anything in the way of material possessions.

I am not merely proclaiming that everything is relative, but that we all suffer in ways that are commensurate with our life history, and our circumstances. The same applies to our aspirations. Life may seem like a credit card, with the goal being to max it out before death, crawling into the grave with a silly grin of exhaustion. But why should we accept these feelings at face value? Do we ever consider that it is possible to discover aspirations for higher things, rather than fulfill the ones start out with? Experiencing visceral hardship is not a virtue in and of itself, as if the sum of total hardship in the world need be more smoothly distributed. I would sooner offer what I can to those who are in it, and acquire those sensitivities that I lack.

Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.


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