the myth of a trouble-free future
In one of his talks or interviews – I've never been able to trace where I first heard it – the author and podcaster Sam Harris recalls being in the middle of a long session of moaning to a friend, about all the crap he was dealing with at the time, when she interrupted him. "Hold on," she said (or words to this effect). "Are you still under the illusion that you'll one day reach a point in your life where you no longer have any problems?"
— What if you never sort your life out?, Oliver Burkeman
Thinking about the future too much robs me of the present. Not only that, but it often makes me ungrateful and makes the present unenjoyable. There’s always hope that I’ll have everything figured out in the future, that it will be better, less stressful, and generally more pleasant.
You could say that this is fine and that having a pessimistic outlook on the future is even worse than thinking this way, but I want to focus on the fallacy of thinking that future will be gentle with its problems. The truth is that new problems will always come, as they will spawn endlessly, just like enemies in the unrealistic but amusing first-person shooter.
In fact, the future should hold even harder problems in store, especially if I want to grow as a person and give myself the ever-bigger challenges required for that growth. I wouldn’t say that life gets harder as we age, but I certainly haven’t yet reached the inflection point after which it allegedly gets easier.
Hoping that the future won’t bring any problems our way is cope. The state of absolute comfort, with zero problems, is a state of perfect balance, also known as death. Carl Jung: “The foundation of all mental illness is the unwillingness to experience legitimate suffering.” By embracing discomfort, we truly live.
I find it very amusing that my nature pushes me to seek comfort, yet I’m the happiest when I do my best to avoid it. A day of pure comfort never feels as fulfilling as a day with a lot of hard work and many problems that were overcome.
I sometimes entertain myself by remembering my past problems — the dumbest ones. This always reminds me how good I had it and that I should’ve been more grateful for the good times. One of these dumb problems I had was worrying about was that I’ll get a traffic ticket because a camera caught me doing something stupid. I would share the details with you (it’s really dumb), but in a weird twist, that would create another dumb problem to worry about, so I think I’ll skip it.
Change is the only constant, so the only thing we can be sure of is that the problems will come. For me, the death of a loved one is the most grounding one. Followed by health problems. These show us how trivial our other problems are and how stupid concerning ourselves with our day-to-day problems is.