― Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo
Did you know that your greatest feelings of happiness are exactly correlate to your greatest feelings of unhappiness?
Think about it: Everything in your life is defined by its comparison to something else. Night is night because it is not day. Physical pain is the opposite of not having pain. Heartbreak is the end of love while “being in love” is, umm, being in love. And so on.
So then, how do you appreciate life if you have yet to feel the effects of death? How do you appreciate success if you haven’t tasted the bitter sting of failure? How do you appreciate love if you don’t know what it’s like to lose love?
The polar opposites are what makes life life. Without good, there is no bad; neither exists because each defines the other. This dualism is what gives us art, music, love, passion, joy and happiness, and, on the flip side, gives us war, suffering, rape, pillage, hate, and murder.
Each one is defined by its contrast to something else.
Embracing this methodically in your life is a practical skill for getting more out of life. Realize that you have to accept good and bad as part of the deal. They are part of the experience. They are the very things that give all things meaning.
We must experience both sides of the coin.
As humans, we will try anything we can to avoid pain while doing everything we can to pursue pleasure. This is a basic survival trait programmed into our DNA as a survival mechanism. When we lived in the wild as hunter gatherers, we had to be careful everywhere we turned as nature is a dangerous place to live 24/7. If we weren’t programmed to avoid things unpleasant, the human species wouldn’t have survived for hundreds of thousands of years without the help of all the things we have in our modern society.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with avoiding pain and pursuing pleasure, but if we take it too far (as many do), we set ourselves up for catastrophic failure when we find ourselves in a crisis. We find ourselves not prepared when shit goes haywire because we have been pursuing pleasure and avoiding pain for so long that we don’t know how to cope. We are not hardened or strong, which is what we become when we deal with shit.
This is why I always encourage others—and remind myself—to seek out what’s hard in life; what risks failure, embarrassment and pain.
Exposing yourself to the “elements” of life builds resilience. It makes you wise and strong. It prepares you for what could happen. It makes you better. And best of all, it teaches you how to appreciate what needs to be appreciated in life.
After all, if you never experience the worst extremes in life, you’ll have no clue how “good” you have it when you have it “good.” You won’t even know what “good” means because, remember, good is only in comparison to bad and you’ll have no idea what bad is.