Life’s Not Fair: Finding Joy by Accepting Things As They Are

One of the most pernicious lies of the modern world is that life is supposed to be easy and comfortable. There is even a sense in which moderns believe they are entitled to this comfort and ease—that it is some sort of fundamental human right.

Many of us have absorbed this subtle thinking, even though we may not realize it. When trouble comes to us, when life is inconvenient or difficult, we are almost angry at the injustice of it. As if it were some sort of cosmic crime that violates that easy life we believe we should have. We complain and take God to task for upsetting our dreams, a very unkind thing to do.

The fact is, life isn’t always fair. Things aren’t always easy, nor were they meant to be. That doesn’t mean anyone in particular, least of all God, is to blame. Sometimes things just are what they are. And accepting that fact is the first step to real freedom.

Among an older, sturdier generation, there was a saying that could be heard frequently: “Life is hard and then you die.” At first glance, the saying sounds brutal and pessimistic, as if life is one long, miserable slog crowned with the blackness of the void. But looked at in another light, this saying strikes at a deeper truth: It is only when you accept life as it is that you can really live with joy.

People who lived before the advent of mechanized modernity were realists. Far from anticipating a life of air conditioned comfort, they expected that life would be hard, even painful. Making a living would unquestionably involve labor, sweat, and sacrifice. There would be sorrow along the way. Yet far from depressing them, this expectation freed them to enjoy the leisure and simple pleasures they did have more fully. When you expect things to be hard, you enjoy your ease the more.

The aim of modern, secular society has in many ways been one long quest to eradicate suffering. For in a world without God and without objective meaning, suffering cannot but be the greatest evil. Those of us who have grown up in this secularized world have been raised to believe we have a right to a pain-free, pleasure-maximized life. And if we ultimately cannot escape suffering due to illness or other causes, we can even go so far as to take our own life to avoid it.

Yet, paradoxically, it is the very expectation that life should be pain-free that causes us the greatest suffering. For pain in life is truly inevitable. It will visit in one form and to one degree or another. In the words of the ancient Salve Regina, we live in a “vale of tears.” Trials are inherent in a disordered, fallen world. The more we internally resist this unchangeable fact, the more anxiety and anger and bitterness the suffering we encounter causes us.

In life, the joy we experience is directly related to our frame of mind. “Blessed is he who expecteth nothing,” said G.K. Chesterton, “for he shall enjoy everything.” If we expect ease and comfort and endless pleasure, difficulties will be a rude and loathsome shock. But if we expect that life will include pain and even sorrow, we will not be surprised when it comes. We will rather endure it with patience, beseeching God’s mercy to persevere. We will also receive the gifts of joy and pleasure we do experience with all the humble wonder that comes with an unexpected and undeserved surprise, saying with full hearts, benedicamos Domino—let us bless the Lord!

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18 Responses to “Life’s Not Fair: Finding Joy by Accepting Things As They Are”

  1. An excellent entry!

    I’ve thought about this and related topics quite a bit, and have been thinking about them quite a bit recently.

    Related to what you note, I think that starting in the 1970s there started to be an idea about earthly things “fulfilling” us. While I’m hearing it less now, for awhile there was all sorts of blathering about “fulfilling careers”. Careers are fulfilling, they’re jobs, and for most people our jobs are the means of support for other vocations, although I will acknowledge that this is different for some people in some occupations. Women have particularly been a victim of this as the 1970s and 1980s subjected them to all sorts of propaganda about how now they too could have “careers”, whereas men already pretty much knew, either by exposure or by experience, that careers are jobs and most aren’t that nifty, let alone fulfilling.

    If there’s a bright spot to this (other than the ones you point out above) its that, at least by my observation, I don’t think the post Boomer generations are nearly as sold on this propaganda as the Boomers became. Indeed (and quoting from Chesterton myself) I just blogged about that myself: http://lexanteinternet.blogspot.com/2017/03/putting-boomers-to-bed-rebellious-rise.html

    On your life is hard, quote, and as quoted on the blog post I just posted the URL for, I’d note what I noted there. I once heard an interview of an author who had written a book about American veterans of World War One. Their views were remarkable, even in comparison to American veterans of World War Two. They simply didn’t regard the Great War as remarkable in the interviews. Their view was that life was hard, World War One was hard, people were going to die, and if they lived through it, which they wanted to, they were going back to their hard lives. And yet, that didn’t make them disenchanted with life. Its what they expected.

  2. Glenn Fairley Reply

    Truth. Very well thought out and written, thank you. Sadly, the people that need it the most will probably not read it.

  3. I am reading just now “Interior Freedom”, by Fr. Jacques Philippe, and it reflects all these true thoughts. Absolutely necessary, I strongly recommend it.

    • PAUL FLORENTINO Reply

      Cool! That’s next on my list. Just started reading Searching for and Maintaining Peace from the same author

  4. Christopher Freeman Reply

    The quote by Chesterton

    “The man who said, “Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall not be disappointed,” put the eulogy quite inadequately and even falsely. The truth Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall be gloriously surprised.” The man who expects nothing sees redder roses than common men can see, and greener grass, and a more startling sun. Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall possess the cities and the mountains; blessed is the meek, for he shall inhereit the earth.”

    One of the most striking things that I have ever read.”

  5. Sometimes I will print out an article from “Catholic Gentleman” or other Catholic websites. I keep them in a spiral bound notebook for later reflection. The above article will be one of the keepers. So much wisdom in so few words. Top notch. Thanks Mr. Guzman.

  6. True, pain in life is inevitable, and we throw ourselves in front of God, begging His mercy, forgiveness, and every blessing for us to carry on His Will.
    Yet, I strongly believe there is A “beneficial pain” , where a “greater good”, will eventually emerge as we are taught, and a “wasted pain”, that really did not have to be, happens to the best of us. I struggle with the “wasted pain’, that happens upon us, usually by our own thoughts, actions, and delivery.

    Please God limit our wasted pain, make our every second here, on earth count for something please……………..

    Mark

  7. I am neither a Catholic nor a gentleman, but found this article quite profound after a friend shared it with me on Facebook. I commend the writer for pointing out something that we all seemingly have never realized. We have all been blinded by a society that has promised us the great American Dream, and in that pursuit of happiness, we have turned happiness into a right that is someone else’s responsibility to provide for us, rather than something to be possibly found through our hard work and suffering. (Just the idea of not expecting the positive, but when finding it, that it will give greater impact, smell sweeter, be more pleasant, is a refreshing realization.)

    This goes hand in hand with the myth that people expect God to not let bad things happen to good people (take a quick look at what happened to his son for starters). Bodyguard god doesn’t exist. As many others that society assumes does exist. (Note: the second video of this series….gods of the ‘no’ testament found at whoneedsgod.com )

    Thank you for the reminder that I realistically don’t need to expect my life to be smooth sailing. It has given me new perspective.
    –Brenda

  8. This sounds like settling. You shouldn’t just accept that things are rubbish. You should work to improve your lot.
    And do you really know anyone who believes “we have a right to a pain-free, pleasure-maximized life?” Millenials have become an easy target, but when you don’t have an understanding of the shape of your life, which is the case for so many of us, it is very hard to get traction going forward. We have a lot of legitimate gripes that don’t seem to be appreciated. We’re bombarded with porn, mass media, a narcissistic culture, feminism, no respect for masculinity, no direction in life for men, urbanisation, lack of roots, isolation and loneliness, and stress and anxiety.
    I think millenials recognise that we have a lot of challenges to overcome in modern society and aren’t just about feeling entitled.

    • In response to the post of April1, you raise the question if anyone believes we have a right to a pain free, pleasure maximized life. It is all over our cities, towns, schools, news , everywhere one goes. This me generation does not want anyone telling them what to do because they want to do whatever it is the they feel makes them happy for the given moment. Unfortunately, they have not yet realized what makes them happy for that moment, last for just that moment because it is usually out of self love that the action is done, not for others. Then they wake up the next day, searching for what will make them happy for that day. Life is a journey, a life of choices. Yes, we are all bombarded with the items you mentioned, and yes it is not easy for any of us to be without. However, when you make the choice to try and ask for God’s assistance in overcoming these temptations, because it is only by the grace of God that we will overcome, one will be pleasantly surprised. We are all asked to help carry the Cross, and by giving up the porn or whatever our cross may be, for just that day , not only will you be assisting Jesus with the Cross he carried for us, but one will eventually see how much easier it is to do without the specific temptation or desire causing the anxiety in one’s life. Baby steps; crawling will soon turn to walking, then running, and the peace and joy will follow. At the end of our life journey we will be judge on our choices of love and love alone. Not for ourselves, but for what we did for others. I would encourage everyone to put down their phone, computers, turn off the TV, ask God to help out with your desires and life will soon become more peaceful, joyful and less free. We must acknowledge that without God, we are nothing. Humility. We are not here to do our will, but God’s will. Not easy, St Theresa of Avila said it the best when she told God, ” no wonder you have such few friends “. The saints have all said if they knew how much suffering benefitted us while on earth, they would have asked for much more. Good luck and God bless.

      • I’d be really careful about attributing these views to a current “Me Generation” as I don’t think the analogy holds. While I don’t want to be involved in blog hijacking I’ve given this quite a bit of thought and I’m fairly convinced that the post Baby Boomer Generations that are out there now are far from a “Me Generation”, a term that first was applied to the Baby Boomers.

        Indeed, I think that the current generations suffer from so many things having been completely destroyed by the Baby Boomers. It was the Boomers who attacked all the traditions, leaving us with the results, and even now the Boomers and even the generation that preceded them will not willing let go of their control of anything. Boomers attacked religion in the 60s and 70 and worshiped money in the late 70s and the 80s.

        Coming into their own at a time when merely having a college degree meant that you could get a decent white collar degree, putting career above everything else, and elevating personal satisfaction about any other value, they’ve left a mess for the next generations to pick up.

        If Millennials appear disaffected to people older than them its largely for these reasons and the reasons cited by Charlemagne. After being told that career is everything, after witnessing endless broken homes and the Boomer disdain for marriage, after being told that they have climb the economic ladder by the Boomers when those rungs are broken, and after having geezers like Anthony Kennedy tell them that there’s no real gender roles while being bombarded in a post Sexual Revolution (Boomers again) sea of pornography, they have a right to be disgruntled.

        I don’t think that takes away from the main essay at all, however. Indeed, I think I actually see a fairly high pain tolerance rate amongst younger generations. Its not always evident, however, as they tend to move on when the pain afflicters don’t recognize that’s what they’re doing.

        As noted in the blog entry I linked to above, I actually think the Millenails are a lot like the World generation that fought World War One that way. They don’t expect much as there isn’t all that much for them, they feel. Where it seems they dont’ give much, like in workplace loyalty, there’s a real reason for it.

  9. This article is so very, very misinformed. Do you really believe that the people in your Depression-era pictures were innately content? No, their lives were miserable and they knew it. They were so horribly dissatisfied with their lot in life. Divorce was common, and many of them fled South and West in search of a better life. It’s just _not_ an era to be looked back at with any fondness at all.

    Today’s generation has unprecedented opportunity and tremendous potential to develop their God-given talents. So the Luddite attitude that infests this site is baffling to me.

  10. David Garza de Sanchez Reply

    Very profound words, Sam. My journey back home to the Catholic Church has shown me that being a good Catholic is actually simple. This isn’t to be confused with being easy.

    This post reminds me how simple it is to turn pain and suffering over to the Cross, but how difficult it can be. I used to keep things complicated but now I keep them simple. Learning that I can’t control the world around me was the pride I had to overcome to truly let God into my heart.

    I know the words above are going to help someone. Grace and peace.

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