Life has never been more stressful, nor less; happiness never harder to achieve, nor easier

January 15, 2013 by Joshua
in Blog, Freedom

If you think something external is causing you stress or keeping you from the life you want, you’re looking in the wrong place.

This early passage in Walden reminded me of how the challenges of living your life how you want to change with the external changes of the world. Thoreau could have described today.

Most men, even in this comparatively free country, through mere ignorance and mistake, are so occupied with the factitious cares and superfluously coarse labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them. Their fingers, from excessive toil, are too clumsy and tremble too much for that. Actually, the laboring man has not leisure for a true integrity day by day; he cannot afford to sustain the manliest relations to men; his labor would be depreciated in the market. He has no time to be anything but a machine.

“He has no time to be anything but a machine.” … They had no internet or robots then. They probably couldn’t have conceived of them. But they could see then, as now, how people could allow the world to dehumanize them.

Now, as then, nobody forces you to accept living that way.

Today we might look at the New England Thoreau resigned from as idyllic — perfect in its simplicity, especially compared to today’s complexity.

Yet their perspective in his time said earlier times seemed idyllic and their own newly complex and stressful — in Thoreau’s words, the lived lives of quiet desperation. (And likewise, the cure to simplify and clarify your values by understanding yourself, no harder to do today as then.)

People of every era seem to say “It was easier earlier and will be easier again. Things are so difficult today.” It seems to me if every time seems the hardest, no time is the hardest, meaning now is as easy a time as any to live freely, to make yourself happy, not to feel stress from life around you.

We think the pace of today’s — take your pick: communications, travel, innovation, violence, etc — is greater than ever before and therefore least manageable. We compare to an earlier time’s and find the evidence conclusive. Yet every time came to the same conclusion. Yet nobody compares today’s time to the future’s to conclude how idyllic today is.

Is it possible that life has been becoming more and more difficult forever — or say just for the past ten thousand odd years of recorded history — and only in our lifetimes have we crossed the threshold for it to overwhelm us?

The chance seems unlikely. Far more likely to me is that some segment of the population has forever blamed the world for its members’ problems instead of taking responsibility for their situations. They sound like victims, whose beliefs make them powerless to change their situations. If you think something external is causing you stress or keeping you from the life you want, you’re looking in the wrong place.

I believe there has always been some segment of the population that has found solutions to its members problems to. If our situation is no worse, then their solutions that worked work for us today too.

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