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How can we achieve happiness when work requires pain?

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I've been having a few disturbing thoughts. I need someone to slap me down and explain why I'm wrong.

 

Every value that we hold dear requires effort to gain and keep. We must fight entropy. We must fight comfort. We might struggle through the pain to get it. How can we live this way and still be happy? If every little thing that makes us happy requires so much voluntarily accepted pain, in order to escape some other pain, how can we ever see life as anything other than pain and relief from it? How can we get up each day and see a life filled with constant pain and struggle and not feel down about it?

 

Ms. Rand said, "To a Money-Maker, as well as to an artist, work is not a painful duty or a necessary evil, but a way of life; to him, productive activity is the essence, the meaning and the enjoyment of existence; it is the state of being alive."

 

How on earth could I live that way? How can work be enjoyment? How can work not be pain?

 

It makes me want to cry reading her words sometimes. I want to believe such a life is possible. Listening to the audiobook of the Fountainhead on the bus on my way to uni, I have nearly cried.

 

"The form in which man experiences the reality of his values is pleasure . . . . A chronic lack of pleasure, of any enjoyable, rewarding or stimulating experiences, produces a slow, gradual, day-by-day erosion of man’s emotional vitality, which he may ignore or repress, but which is recorded by the relentless computer of his subconscious mechanism that registers an ebbing flow, then a trickle, then a few last drops of fuel—until the day when his inner motor stops and he wonders desperately why he has no desire to go on, unable to find any definable cause of his hopeless, chronic sense of exhaustion." - Ayn Rand

 

I identify with this feeling. I don't get much pleasure out of anything I do. And I cannot figure out why anything should give me any pleasure, physically or emotionally. I can't figure out how I can value anything. If I'm meant to value my life, and my life is a drag, then how can I go on valuing it?

Edited by Peter Morris
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Your emotional response to the Fountainhead indicates your thoughts, and insofar as you find it inspiring, those thoughts are rational and those feelings are a response to your progress learning about what morality and existence as a man are.

 

Do not despair.  Valuing life is something you will naturally come into as you value yourself.  I will guess self-esteem/pride is the root of your struggle ... you can and will (from what you have said I have every confidence in your rationality and emotional maturity and your future progress and growth) develop that self-esteem and love of life, as you recognize your successes at striving for moral perfection... the more you succeed at being principled and rational, you will see yourself as the kind the hero you are becoming and therefore value yourself, eventually, as your highest value.

 

One thing to remember though, effort is not "pain", effort is effort.  Recall the childhood joy of running, leaping, wrestling, tricycling, or just plain playing... do you remember breathing hard?  Do you remember sweating?  Do you remember being sore after or very puzzled, intellectually challenged during the making a decision during inventive play?  Recall the joy of finding the solution.

 

Do you remember it as pain? 

 

Effort is not pain only a reaction of discomfort which results from false ideas, which false ideas have been force fed to you.  Life should be effortless or for free is one kind of false idea.  That achievement, work, striving, is painful... is a logical consequence of the first and is a second false idea that has been fed to you.  Shed the false ideas, run, strive, sweat... with joy!

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I've been having a few disturbing thoughts. I need someone to slap me down and explain why I'm wrong.

 

Every value that we hold dear requires effort to gain and keep. We must fight entropy. We must fight comfort. We might struggle through the pain to get it. How can we live this way and still be happy? If every little thing that makes us happy requires so much voluntarily accepted pain, in order to escape some other pain, how can we ever see life as anything other than pain and relief from it? How can we get up each day and see a life filled with constant pain and struggle and not feel down about it?

 

Ms. Rand said, "To a Money-Maker, as well as to an artist, work is not a painful duty or a necessary evil, but a way of life; to him, productive activity is the essence, the meaning and the enjoyment of existence; it is the state of being alive."

 

How on earth could I live that way? How can work be enjoyment? How can work not be pain?

 

It makes me want to cry reading her words sometimes. I want to believe such a life is possible. Listening to the audiobook of the Fountainhead on the bus on my way to uni, I have nearly cried.

 

"The form in which man experiences the reality of his values is pleasure . . . . A chronic lack of pleasure, of any enjoyable, rewarding or stimulating experiences, produces a slow, gradual, day-by-day erosion of man’s emotional vitality, which he may ignore or repress, but which is recorded by the relentless computer of his subconscious mechanism that registers an ebbing flow, then a trickle, then a few last drops of fuel—until the day when his inner motor stops and he wonders desperately why he has no desire to go on, unable to find any definable cause of his hopeless, chronic sense of exhaustion." - Ayn Rand

 

I identify with this feeling. I don't get much pleasure out of anything I do. And I cannot figure out why anything should give me any pleasure, physically or emotionally. I can't figure out how I can value anything. If I'm meant to value my life, and my life is a drag, then how can I go on valuing it?

I think it's dangerous to say too much by way of advice, without knowing you and knowing your specifics far better than I do (or could). But...

Is it possible that you're doing the wrong things?

The feeling that you describe, where you're not getting pleasure out of what you do -- I believe that I've experienced that before, at times, both in general and also in more delimited ways. And after soul-searching and much analysis, it has led me to make changes, big and small, I might not otherwise have considered (in career, in romantic partner, in living condition). While there was no panacea or silver bullet, and while not all of my subsequent choices were necessarily ideal, I do believe that my approach has led me to a happier and more fulfilling life than I would have had, if I had either ignored my own emotional responses or tried to talk myself into believing that my emotions were somehow "wrong" and not to be listened to.

The way you feel... it could (heavy emphasis on could) be indicative of some other problem in your life that you have not yet consciously grasped.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I don't get much pleasure out of anything I do. And I cannot figure out why anything should give me any pleasure, physically or emotionally. I can't figure out how I can value anything. If I'm meant to value my life, and my life is a drag, then how can I go on valuing it?

In addition to the philosophical advice you're getting in this thread, it may be a good idea to consult a therapist or psychiatrist if you feel this way. Feelings follow from thoughts, so philosophy can help you with negative feelings, but there are also some possible psychological or chemical causes to this sort of feeling which would be better dealt with by a qualified professional. I mean, if you're sad because you have seasonal affective disorder or something, no one here will be able to recognize the symptoms.

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  • 1 month later...

Is it wrong then that I enjoy life and find my job satisfying and not a pain. To say more: I find joy in various everyday activities I do and I am very happy with my life. There are things I do not enjoy but I do not focus on pain but more on what is to come afterwards: get through hard to achieve a goal/prize/pleasure. The amount of negative feelings you express plus the verge of tears: it sounds like depression. 

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Is it wrong then that I enjoy life and find my job satisfying and not a pain. To say more: I find joy in various everyday activities I do and I am very happy with my life. There are things I do not enjoy but I do not focus on pain but more on what is to come afterwards: get through hard to achieve a goal/prize/pleasure. The amount of negative feelings you express plus the verge of tears: it sounds like depression. 

Absolutely not wrong, that sounds fantastic!

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Between this thread and another here that you commented on around the same time, you've got the key questions to investigate:

"Is it possible that you're doing the wrong things?" and

"What would it mean to integrate [a particular goal] within the wider context of a goal directed life?"

I don't think this is primarily a self-esteem problem. I think this is a purpose problem. A lot of people are unhappy because of a lack of meaning, and they don't identify that that's where the problem is coming from. To me this sounds like Existentialism:

"I don't get much pleasure out of anything I do... I can't figure out how I can value anything."

"I can't identify rational reasons for why I like things and it makes me feel guilty and paralyses me."

Now I don't know you, so I could be way off, but it's probably worth checking if this is something you relate to:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Absurdism

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  Peter, in #1 your quote from Rand is a good one. If I may add an emphasis: “work is not a painful duty or a necessary evil.” She wasn’t saying there that work is not painful, the thing to rule out of court is duty. Where duty is replaced with obligation to yourself and your loved ones recognized because of the service the work is to maintaining your life and making you prosper, a painful obligation to work can become a pain integral with a larger joy, as expressed by Tiff.

 

I would like to wish you life and that it become a joy for you. And that you take a pretty long view. I’ve found only one way out of a life-slump (understanding that professional therapy can be necessary and effective, but supposing that is not required for you), and that is achievement, including the years of unskilled physical labor I did for pay to put a meal on the table and roof over head, but also the achievement that is education---formal, self-study, and on-the-job---for future work, accomplishment, life, and mind.

 

Many good inputs from others on this thread. 

Edited by Boydstun
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 Let’s build some context.

 

“Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one’s values.” (Virtue of Selfishness)

 

“Happiness is a state of non-contradictory joy—a joy without penalty or guilt, a joy that does not clash with any of your values and does not work for your own destruction, not the joy of escaping from your mind, but of using your mind’s fullest power, not the joy of faking reality, but of achieving values that are real, not the joy of a drunkard, but of a producer.” (Galt)

 

Now, let’s do some definitions for pain (all from merriam-webster):

 

“a sharp unpleasant sensation usually felt in some specific part of the body”

“a state of great suffering of body or mind”

“the active use of energy in producing a result”

“strict attentiveness to what one is doing <take pains to be sure that you don't damage anything while moving the furniture>”

 

Do you see that the definition of pain varies with context?

 

 

Here’s the elaboration:

 

Pain is a response to noxious stimuli. Pain is good. It’s essential. Without pain, any living organism would die. Pain tells you what’s bad for your life: “hey! Something has gone wrong, pay a little attention here, else you’ll lose functionality of this part and that’ll eventually lead to you not being able to survive”

 

But do we all back out at the first sign of pain? Nope, we’ve learned to recognise the fact that the pain is only an indicator of the problem and not the problem itself.

 

Further, we have sufficient experience and knowledge to classify pain based on its potential for impairment and set it aside, e.g. I’m in pain when I wake up an hour earlier in the morning than I usually do, but I need to wake up early to get something done (which brings me happiness by achieving value). My body is pleading me to go back to sleep, eyes are burning, head’s throbbing. But I KNOW that it’ll pass, that I’ll compensate for the sleep later, that it’s not a brain tumour causing these symptoms. When I drag myself out of bed, I might incur some discomfort, some pain, but does it tip the scale? I got the job done, I’m happy, I can now use the fruits of that job to do more. But, if I had a migraine (sensitive to light, nauseous, severe pain) I’d see a doc and take meds & a day’s rest and that’d enable me to get back to work - pain has actually enabled me to get back to work.  I am not suggesting that pain, unless debilitating, ought to be ignored. What I am suggesting is that the function of pain is a protective one, therefore must not be misconstrued as being a ‘buzz kill’.  

 

 

 

Pain is a bodily response. The job of contextually interpreting and inferring what that pain means and how you ought to perceive and act on it is YOUR job, not the body’s, it cannot think.

 

Conventional false ideas have dropped this context. They’ve equated pain with effort and made it a dysfunctional affair. They’ve blurred out the following facts: the pain/discomfort incurred in doing work that brings you happiness is really just there to ensure you don’t harm yourself; it is compensated for by the achievement of your task and is not an indicator of something life threatening unless you cross limits, which you won’t if you Know What You’re Doing and doesn’t refer to the ‘state of exhaustion, reduced emotional vitality and painful duty’. Recognizing this is the key to answering the apparent dilemma – ‘Happiness requires work which may require pain, therefore happiness is not achievable’, in other words, it’s key in removing contradiction.

 

Blow the understanding of the philosophy of physical pain to pain at the psychological level, break everything up to their constituent bits. You’ll realize that it holds up well. If it doesn’t, then you’ll have to re-evaluate a lot of things. If the “migraine” was brought on because of too much work, then the issue lies in your ability to direct your work patterns away from flash points that result in migraines – which in other words means: you might be doing the wrong things.

 

This can change, but only when you change your perspective on pain.

 

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  • 1 month later...
I'm pretty sure I know exactly what you're talking about, OP. I feel the same thing. Not to the degree you do, but what I read from you is familiar to me.
 
I've searched and formulated my own problems with working in much the same way as you. But I've essentialized it further. It seems that in order to attain the values we require, we must also suffer. Suffering and pain are each signals that we are dying.
 
So the essential formulation of this problem is: Life seems to require death.
 
I can think of two problems that are causing this feeling:
1. Your work doesn't serve a good purpose to you, or you have lost sight of the purpose of your work.
2. Your work is torturous work in and of itself. So even if your work is serving purposes for you, the work itself is still killing you.
 
The solution for 1 is to make sure that your work is serving your purposes, and that you don't lose sight of the purpose your work serves. The solution for 2 is fairly obvious: To choose work that doesn't torture you when you perform it.
 
To concretize, I'll show examples from my own life. (Since I don't know anything about yours.)
 
When I first got into my own apartment, I didn't have my computer. My new apartment was in Minnesota and my computer was in Washington. I had nothing to my name and I was going to be getting welfare to sustain myself. (Unemployment for rent. Foodstamps for food.)
 
My computer and my internet are some of the highest values in my life. I really, really needed my computer back. So I really really needed a source of income so I could get my computer back.
 
I normally dread the idea of work, and I would have been tempted to stay on the doll. But because I wanted my computer so badly, I applied for work and I got a job as a dishwasher.
 
It didn't feel like torturous work then. It felt like every day I worked was a day closer to having my computer and internet again.
 
I had my sights set on a goal, and my work was not just work; it was what I had to do to attain my goal.
 
Nowadays though, I feel much like you do. Partially because I've lost sight of why I work. It has become a duty that I have to do every day. A duty to get up in the morning and drag myself to work, and to wash dishes, and then go home again. I get my paycheck still, but while I'm at work, I don't mentally associate the work with the money.
 
This breach between the work and the reward in my mind could be one cause of the feeling that work is suffering; that life is death.
 
The other problem is, of course, that the work itself is torturous.
 
There's only so far you can make it on keeping your eyes on the prize. If the work kills you inside, you're still going to start feeling like work is suffering, no matter what rewards you get for your work.

You ask what it's like for work to be life rather than to be pain? Here's another example, again from my personal life.
 
I'm a self-taught web programmer who codes in php. Back in the day, when I used to actively code, I would code because I had amazing ideas that I wanted to bring to life. Ideas that I daydreamed about and then eventually set about coding.
 
Once I started coding, I couldn't stop. The only thing on my mind was the idea that I was bringing to life. I was unable to resist, because the idea I was creating was so important to me that it was an end in itself to me. I would work 8+ hours a day, in my own free time, perfecting my code, so the entire program perfectly revolved around my idea for it.
 
This is work that feels like life, as opposed to work that feels like death. Think back to your past. Have you ever performed a productive hobby where you enjoyed the thing you were doing, as if it were an end in itself?
 
That is what Ayn Rand means when she says that work is life.
 
So as far as I can tell, your answer is two-fold.
 
1. Find work that serves your purposes and never lose sight of the connection between your work and your purposes. And,
2. Find work that is an end in itself to you. Work that you can't resist doing. This way, you can serve the other purposes in your life with work that feels like life as well.
 
You should be able to truly live if you can do these two things.
Edited by Amaroq
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  • 2 weeks later...

If every little thing that makes us happy requires so much voluntarily accepted pain, in order to escape some other pain, how can we ever see life as anything other than pain and relief from it?

Stop trying to escape from pain.

You can't erase it entirely, anyway. Sometimes bad things happen; sometimes there isn't even anything you can do to for see or prevent them. To some extent they're simply part of living.

And notice what it feels like to spend your efforts that way, too!

Stop trying to escape from pain and start trying to pursue pleasure.

Whatever you can think of that makes you the happiest- no matter how dim or futile it seems, to imagine- go for it. Set out on a quest to find beauty, in any sense and degree.

If you find yourself in pain while pursuing that, stop to identify its cause and then ask yourself if it can be fixed, without sacrificing your goals; if so then fix it, if not then forget about it.

I mean it. Once you determine that nothing more can be done for some problem, waste no more of your attention on it; forget about it.

---

Know that no matter how distant Rand's world may seem, your desire for it is entirely your own; it is fuel for your soul. As long as you have that desire, you also have the potential to make it real.

Go for it and don't stop for anything.

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“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” -Confucius

Even If you don't find a job that you love, it is necessary that you do get a work, in order to live 'Self-dependently' and survive. Grow Pride. Get an Ego and Love Yourself.

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I don't get much pleasure out of anything I do. And I cannot figure out why anything should give me any pleasure, physically or emotionally. I can't figure out how I can value anything. If I'm meant to value my life, and my life is a drag, then how can I go on valuing it?

On the face of it, this sounds very much like a depressive state of mind -- slumping around with no real interest, and no motivation to find interest in anything. Or, it could be strictly a pondering/analysis of why humans value. Only you could say for sure.

If it's the former, I'm sure there are many ways to pull yourself out of depression, but the way that always worked for me was to just wait around and eventually feel differently enough to get the ball rolling in another direction. If you take this approach (if you are depressed), I suggest picking *any* goal to work toward no matter how important or easy/difficult -- something which you don't yet have and also something which you're sure you can make happen eventually -- in order to give purpose to your days. Echoing StrictlyLogical's post, this will really speed up getting things moving in a different, positive direction. When you accomplish the goal, you will inevitably, involuntarily feel better about yourself and also about your ability to get done what you decide to get done. It really can be *any* goal, but the requirements are that you haven't attained it yet in your life and that you'd rather it be there: taking a walk every day after lunch, smiling instead of scowling every day at your coworker (even if it's not natural), etc. Then, pick another goal slightly further out of reach.

This process -- deciding you want something, figuring out how to make it happen, and then seeing it actually happen because of what you decided to do -- is the only path toward happiness and fulfillment. And coincidentally, the journey along this path makes whatever "work" that is necessary, not seem that negative at all. At worst (based on my experience), you may get impatient, and at best this work will only add to your positive judgement of your own self worth, as you successfully complete task after task, and acquire skill after skill.

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  • 10 months later...
On 11/2/2014 at 8:02 PM, Peter Morris said:

I've been having a few disturbing thoughts. I need someone to slap me down and explain why I'm wrong.

 

Every value that we hold dear requires effort to gain and keep. We must fight entropy. We must fight comfort. We might struggle through the pain to get it. How can we live this way and still be happy? If every little thing that makes us happy requires so much voluntarily accepted pain, in order to escape some other pain, how can we ever see life as anything other than pain and relief from it? How can we get up each day and see a life filled with constant pain and struggle and not feel down about it?

 

Ms. Rand said, "To a Money-Maker, as well as to an artist, work is not a painful duty or a necessary evil, but a way of life; to him, productive activity is the essence, the meaning and the enjoyment of existence; it is the state of being alive."

 

How on earth could I live that way? How can work be enjoyment? How can work not be pain?

 

It makes me want to cry reading her words sometimes. I want to believe such a life is possible. Listening to the audiobook of the Fountainhead on the bus on my way to uni, I have nearly cried.

 

"The form in which man experiences the reality of his values is pleasure . . . . A chronic lack of pleasure, of any enjoyable, rewarding or stimulating experiences, produces a slow, gradual, day-by-day erosion of man’s emotional vitality, which he may ignore or repress, but which is recorded by the relentless computer of his subconscious mechanism that registers an ebbing flow, then a trickle, then a few last drops of fuel—until the day when his inner motor stops and he wonders desperately why he has no desire to go on, unable to find any definable cause of his hopeless, chronic sense of exhaustion." - Ayn Rand

 

I identify with this feeling. I don't get much pleasure out of anything I do. And I cannot figure out why anything should give me any pleasure, physically or emotionally. I can't figure out how I can value anything. If I'm meant to value my life, and my life is a drag, then how can I go on valuing it?

"Struggle" is not necessarily same as "Pain". The whole reason of doing what you like and making it a profession(as Roark had explained in "The Fountainhead") is that you can live a happy life since you spend most of your life working so the work has to be something which gives you happiness. If you are into a profession which you don't like the least, then it becomes painful. But working hard for a thing you are passionate about, may be considered a struggle but not a pain

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