The secret to a good life? Hunt down difficulty

I’ve read about the work of philosopher Martha Nussbaum for a while. She’s one of the most prolific thinkers around. Nussbaum has published 24 books, 509 papers and received 57 honorary degrees. Last month she won the Kyoto Prize, the most prestigious award offered in fields not eligible for a Nobel. And so on, so forth. She’s a fierce mind with a fierce set of ideas about life. You can read about the fabulous anomalies…bearing in mind she has some wonderfully robust ideas about inconsistency.

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I found this thought worth pondering: She believes the point of life – a good life – is to not just accept difficulty (and grow/learn etc from it), but to actively seek it out. Indeed, she writes that if she notices herself feeling too satisfied, she begins to feel discontent.

“To be a good human being,” she says, “is to have a kind of openness to the world, the ability to trust uncertain things beyond your own control that can lead you to be shattered.” 

This is a disarming notion for me. You too? I agree with her, though. I often have debates about the worth of hardship with folk around me  who “just want to be happy”. Happiness, I’ve written before, is one of many byproducts of leading a good and meaningful life. Surely we are here for more? Surely we’re here to grow? This is how we’ve evolved. It’s also how we feel most satisfied with our lives…when we know it’s heading somewhere. And we really only seem to grow and progress by overcoming hardship.

So how to seek it out? How to steer your life to friction. Nussbaum seems to naturally rub things up in interesting directions. Me too. I’m told I’m hard work, that I’m a challenge, that I make life hard, that I push boundaries constantly. I’ve been told these things since I was a kid. I do believe I do it to keep me real and good and open to the world. 

Do you have these arguments with people? Are you told to just relax, find an easier path? Does Nussbaum’s thinking resonate?

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