An Eclectic Human
A newsletter about design, community, and being a human

2.02 Difficult on purpose

We all want life to be easier. Sometimes the best way to do that is by making it harder.

In some aspects of my life, it comes naturally to me to avoid the “easy” way and do the harder thing. I don’t go out of my way to park close to the door. I walk or bike to work even if I could drive or get a ride. I take the stairs whenever possible (even when I worked on the ninth floor). Doing these harder things actually makes my life easier. I’m not averse to trekking across a parking lot. I’m not afraid to sweat a little before I get to the office. And the prospect of climbing to the top of a European clock tower or coping with a broken elevator does not daunt me.

Some other hard things in life don’t look as appealing. I dislike talking on the phone, so I avoid it when I can. It seems easier that way. In reality, my life would be better if I overcame my qualms with phone conversation and just became comfortable with it instead of fearing it.

David Cain writes in “Life is Easier When You Take the Stairs”,

“Better”, in the exercise-and-whole-grains sense, has always been on offer, but this better life often seems harder than the one we already have, and the last thing we want is to make life harder.

I think what most of us really want is an easier life, not necessarily a more wholesome one. We want less trouble and more enjoyment, probably more so than we want achievement and virtue. But what we often overlook is that embracing difficulty in certain places nets us a lot more ease than our usual “easy” ways. Putting in three hours a week at the gym is easier than being out of shape 24 hours a day. Studying is easier than sitting in an exam room not having studied. Doing a good job at work is easier than wondering when they’ll finally fire you.

This principle applies to health, personal relationships, finances, skill development, and many other areas. It’s much easier to live within your means, save, and invest than to buy things on credit now and have to deal with debt and interest working against you in the future. It’s easier to be able to mow your own lawn or fix your own car or cook your own food, because then you don’t have to pay someone else to do it if you suddenly can’t or don’t want to.

A personal finance blogger with the nom de plume Mr. Money Mustache talks a lot about these topics, and this is what he says about biking in the winter:

I will admit that all of these steps, when taken together, do take an initial round of using your brain and putting in some effort. And I’ll even admit that while you’re figuring out the whole system, you might even experience brief periods of discomfort because you might be too cold or too warm and need to make clothing adjustments. But guess what? You don’t score yourself a happier life by running from all forms of discomfort. It’s just the opposite—you get happier by ramming yourself right up against obstacles like this one and then smashing through them.

So I’ll keep looking for ways to make my life difficult on purpose, because a lot of those things will make me happier in the end.

• • •

When have you done a hard thing that’s actually made your life easier?

—Steve

Later article
2.03 Affordances
Older article
2.01 A new volume