I was daydreaming the other day (to the tune of Self Esteem by The Offspring, of course). I told my wife it was a “thought experiment”, but it was really a daydream. I was trying to imagine my perfect day. My Perfect Monday, to be exact. What would I be doing on the most notorious of all weekdays if I could design the perfect life?
I was instantly transported to the blue skies, beaches and ocean breezes of a care-free life (embarrassingly close to pictures you see in retirement brochures, only I wasn’t old and wrinkled). I was doing stuff, working toward life goals, I suppose, but progress came easy and I basically printed money sitting on my ass sipping coffee. There was no stress or sadness. The day was full of smiles and handshakes, the night full of pats on the back and glasses clinking. I was tan and had large pecs and wore flowing white linens.
This is great! I thought. Now I know the end goal, what I really want in life. I can start breaking it down into the steps I need to get there. Easy. I immediately jumped on Zillow to search for beach houses. Because that’s the logical first step.
My wife did the daydream exercise too. Coincidentally, we were both aligned on my large pecs and the glasses clinking on the beach part.
This little exercise is an awesome way to understand your values and true ambitions in life. I had planned to write an article about my life goals (large pecs included) and My Perfect Monday and how important this kind of thought experiment is to intentional life design. I had planned an uplifting and positive message today. But you’re gonna get something a little darker first 😠. I’ll write all about My Perfect Monday a different day. I still have some work to do on that one.
You see, My Perfect Monday was missing something. Something I didn’t realize I was forgetting until last Sunday. It was missing any acknowledgement of Suffering, or its little brothers, inconvenience and annoyance. I swept it all under the rug. That’s probably fine. There’s no need to dampen a daydream with the dark cloud of suffering. How could my perfect day include bad things? Best not to think about suffering. Rainbows and unicorns, rainbows and unicorns….
There’s just one problem… A human life without suffering simply doesn’t exist. And trying to build a life free from all suffering is a recipe for ruin.
A Message From Pastor Phil
It was a Phil, a pastor at our church, who checked me back into reality. His message this last Sunday happened to be all about suffering and the right way to handle it (Spoiler: It shouldn’t be ignored).
Suffering is unavoidable, he reminded us. Even today, with all of our abundance, our countless blessings. And suffering is not the worst thing that can happen. On the contrary, it’s a critical part of our human lives.
If you’re expecting life to be perfect at any point, you’re going to be very disappointed. Worse, if your focus in life is to avoid all suffering, you might just end up with an empty shell of a meaningless life.
Human beings were meant to suffer. Sorry for bearing the bad news, but it’s true. We were designed to adapt to and grow stronger from struggle. Physically, mentally and deep within our soul.
And when we try to do an end-around to avoid all suffering or mask it with our drug of choice (pills, food, sex, TV, Facebook) instead of facing it head on, we can do permanent damage to our core being.
“Anesthetic is helpful when it comes to surgery, deadly when it comes to matters of the soul… Ignorance and avoidance are not preferable to suffering,” Pastor Phil said.
Suffering Sure is Annoying
Of course, there is needless suffering that should be eliminated. Hunger, poverty, disease. We’re not talking about that here. That kind of suffering just needs to go away. And we should naturally take proactive measures to keep ourselves and our families safe to avoid deep suffering from tragedies like sickness, critical injury and death (even if they can’t always be avoided). But I’m not even talking about that level of suffering.
The fact is, we work so hard to eliminate every ounce of suffering from our lives and have done such a good job on the big and intermediate stuff here in America and the rest of the West, that we’ve moved on to tackle even the most minor inconvenience. That’s a destructive trend.
I don’t have to “suffer” through 2 minutes of awkward silence with my wife. My phone is right here in my pocket and I can hop on EBay and buy those rose-colored glasses I’ve always wanted.
Talking about suffering like this may seem downright offensive to anyone dealing with real tragedy in their life. But we’ve been conditioned by the glossy ads of our consumer culture that any inconvenience, annoyance or uncomfortable silence is suffering. And that all suffering is bad. And if suffering happens to seep into your life, there’s a product or pill that can plug the pain.
This avoidance attitude chips away at our relationships, our mind, our body and our soul.
Back to the Beach
Suffering will follow us to the beach, or wherever, when we arrive at our perfect day. Maybe that’s a little too deflating to think about and seems counterproductive in a goal-setting thought experiment like My Perfect Monday.
I can feel my sweet pecs sagging now. The depression setting in. F-it-all! Life can never be great!
But that’s the wrong attitude. It’s important to recognize suffering will be a part of our everyday life no matter what status we attain. We shouldn’t hide from it. In fact, we should actually constantly seek out suffering in things that are difficult and uncomfortable.
It’s a lesson Mr. Money Mustache teaches us as he’s pounding fence posts into post holes he dug out in the hot summer sun. He’s reached what many consider the pinnacle of financial independence. Yet he’s still challenging himself with what most normal Americans would consider needless suffering. He no longer considers any part of that kind of hard, hot work suffering anymore. He’s adapted.
We can adapt either way. We can strip away layer after endless layer of suffering and inconvenience until we’re annoyed out of our minds by even the most minor itch. Or we can train ourselves to endure harder and harder things so we can face any unexpected suffering with stone-faced determination.
I’ll revisit My Perfect Monday in my next article, but I’ll frame it up a little bit differently now. The story will still include some outrageous opulence and easy living and a lotta laughs, but it will all be grounded in the reality that all suffering won’t just magically disappear.
After all, I know now that a healthy acknowledgement of suffering and the role it plays in our lives is the only way I’ll truly be able to enjoy My Perfect Monday.