First World Problems Matter (Just As Much) Too
"He who has a why to live can bear almost any how" - Fredrich Nietzsche
I read that quote for the first time about a year ago while reading Viktor Frankl's 'Man's Search For Meaning'. The funny thing, I distinctly remember as a teenager, my mother paraphrasing this quote to me on a fairly regular basis. It must be difficult being a parent - Teaching your children profound truths such as this, and watching it go right over their heads. But my mother had the foresight to know I would grow up and learn this lesson anyway. She planted the seed. And boy has this seed grown into quite the mighty oak in my life.
I often wonder how things got to the be the way they are for us in modern western civilization. Human curiosity has always bred innovation. Innovation brought us motor vehicles to get places faster, laundry machines and dishwashers to drastically speed up house chores, medicine to live longer, air conditioning to make our homes more comfortable to sit in all day, air planes to take us anywhere we could possibly want to go in a day's time, cell phones to speak to anybody at any time, and super computers in our pockets with more information available than any library that has ever existed. Today's common man has so much more than the wealthiest man had 100 years ago. And it's resulted in massive unhappiness.
According to the CDC, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in America. Since 1999, suicide rates have increased 33%. Women age 45-64 have seen an increase from 6.0 deaths per 100,000 in 1999 to 9.7 deaths per 100,000 in 2017. Suicide rates for men in the same age group are a staggering 30.1 deaths per 100,000 in 2017 as opposed to 20.8 deaths per 100,000 in 1999.
"I went to Mozambique and saw a real kind of happiness. So I don't feel guilty when Nike sends me some packages". That is a lyric from Jon Bellion's song Adult Swim. The first time I heard that lyric, I had a rather visceral reaction. The lyric didn't sit right with me. To me, it seemed like he was trying to justify materialism. But maybe there's some truth to it. The lyric is followed by "We still end up in boxes even though we chase packages".
So here we arrive back at Nietzsche's claim that a man with a why can bear almost any how. Western materialism - the pursuit of fame and fortune, even if attained, is not sufficient for the human heart if it is without a profoundly compelling foundation of meaning - a why.
Vikor Frankl discusses in Man's Search For Meaning his experiences in a as a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp in grave detail. He describes how when he was nearly starved to death, barefoot and wet in freezing snow, working tirelessly under the harsh rule of prison guards, he would begin to daydream about his wife. He would see her, smiling at him, as if she was just on the other side of all of his suffering. And he swears that those visions were the reason he was able to overcome the atrocities of the camp.
We need to abandon the notion that any man's pain is more significant than another's. Pain is relative to the one experiencing it. A rich man suffering from depression does not know the pain of a poor man struggling to stay warm on the street. Conversely, the poor man has the advantage of belief that if he can get out of his situation, his pain will be alleviated. He does not know the hopelessness of a rich man who 'has it all', yet still feels the crushing weight of emptiness. Each man suffers equally.
Each man's pain can only be addressed properly by a compelling why. More Important than food, water, or shelter, man's fundamental need is meaning. Without it, his will to survive will wear thin quickly. So no matter a man's burden, should his why be powerful enough, his how will manifest. Go discover your why. You are human. You are the most capable adaptation machine in all the world. Your power lies in your reason to get up in the morning. Find a good one and you will be unstoppable, able to carry the heaviest of weights on your shoulders,