The other day I listened to Jonathan Fields’ interview with Mark Manson (author of The Fine Art of not Giving a Fuck) on Jonathan’s (extraordinary! inspiring!) podcast Good Life Project. The title of the episode is “Mark Manson: On Pain, Possibility, and Profanity”–soooo worth your time. Jonathan always ends the episodes by asking his guests what living a good life means to them. Mark’s answer was hardly surprising if you’ve read his articles. He said, “Living a good life means you have good problems–problems that invigorate you, excite you, and bring meaning into your life.”
In his article, “The Most Important Question of Your Life,” Mark says that rather than asking ourselves what we want out of life, we really ought to be asking what pain we want in our lives, what we are willing to suffer for. So it seems to me he is proposing that if we want a good life, we’d better get serious about what we are to roll up our sleeves and get to work for–and be well aware and accepting–even welcoming– of the certain accompanying pain.
I thought about this chosen pain stuff, the “good” problems” stuff, and I’ve made my choices. I think we’d all do well to sit down and deliberately choose our problems and do our best to resolve problems that drain, depress, paralyze or poison us. Easy to say, not easy to do. I’m thankful for every hour I spent with a good therapist or wise friend. There’s no choosing “good” problems when bad problems are having their way with you.
For the record, here are my chosen problems:
- Body/mind/spirit health. Commitment to total health is hard ass work, and sometimes it hurts. My Ashtanga yoga practice has physical pain woven in its fabric–for good reason. My mind gets worked over in therapy sessions, in conversation with trusted friends, and in super-attentive self-observation. And I don’t know about you, but I find spiritual health is like anything else; it feels the pull of gravity, and it’s my job to build and keep momentum through yoga, listening and responding to a variety spiritual teachers, and my own personal studies. Work, work, work.
- Intimate relationships. I don’t need to explain this one. Whether with children or a partner, intimacy doesn’t come without its share of pain.
- Simplicity. I choose to live a “simpler” life. Less stuff. Less commitment to a job. I want to live in a way that is decidedly uncluttered, unrushed, highly flexible, and light. If I choose to “work” less, I’m going to have to be willing to live with far less and be willing to accept the fact that my financial future is not neat and tidy. Undoubtedly this choice, like any other, will have its sting.
These are good problems, problems that invigorate, excite and bring meaning (and focus) to my life. I wish my parents had chosen their problems more wisely. Instead, I watched them unwittingly select problems that, even today, they feel like have chosen them.