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  • Writer's pictureScott Francis

Built for Adversity

We often have a tendency to get pessimistic when the road ahead looks difficult. In part, this seems to be a useful adaptation to imagine worst-case-scenarios, in the hopes of mitigating them. But we also have a contentment problem - we're happy for miunutes or seconds after achievements, then ratchet up our expectations.

It seems there is a spectrum of what we mean by the term "happy." On the low end of activity, we have contement; things are good, we have no desire to change our situation. And yet, someone who is continually facing and overcoming challenges may also describe themselves as "happy" - experiencing something we might describe as satisfying, engaging, fulfilling, or meaningful.

Give people the end state they say they want, and they are quickly unhappy.

Give them activity toward their goal, and they can be happy for years.

"The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sysiphus happy." - Albert Camus

Sysiphus was a charachter in Greek mythology, who resided in the underworld. His task was to push a large boulder to the top of a mountain, at which point it would roll down, and he would begin his work again. Sysiphus' task is generally held to be a punishment, but Camus reframes the story.

The flip side to constant work is that we're always making things better. Human progress is a result of our racheting expectations. We have the capacity to imagine things better than the way things currently are.

That opens a new & difficult path. The future isn't better than the past by accident. It takes the cumulative work of millions of us, striving toward a shared dream.

We are aspirational creatures. We dream. And when we believe the dream enough, we work. Our work is evidence of our conviction, and can thus inspire others towards sharing that dream. And sharing the work. That work directed toward a dream is what improves our lives, individually & collectively.

When I face adversity, when things feel tough, it is useful for me to remember that feeling is part of the process of past & future improvement. It is a cause for optimism, for that feeling drives us to do the work to make tomorrow better.

In what specific way do you see that the world could be better?

What work are you doing to bring that about?

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