Life without Obstacles is Boring

I consistently wish my life was easier. I fantasize about getting everything I want immediately without any effort. It sounds like heaven. But then I remember a scene from the final season of The Good Place. If you haven’t watched The Good Place and you plan to, stop reading here.

In the penultimate episode, Eleanor and crew finally make it to heaven. And it’s fantastic – it offers cozy dinner parties, stardust milkshakes, music you can eat, and hoverboards. Every whim is indulged immediately. Except, the novelty of constant pleasure wears off and the residents become lackluster, passive, and incurious. In short, heaven is boring.

Watching that episode was the first time it occurred to me that getting everything you want when you want it could be dull. That perhaps we enjoy things because we have to work for them, or we have to wait for them. It was a reminder there’s joy to be found in accomplishing a goal after making an effort, like learning a new language and finding you can understand the majority of a conversation rather than just a word or two. Or working your way up to playing “Moonlight Sonata” on the piano instead of just “Chopsticks.”

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It’s much more exciting to jump over hurdles than to trot in a circle. Photo by Gene Devine on Unsplash

Maybe it’s the obstacles that make life satisfying. A part of me can’t believe I just wrote that because again, I’d take a little more instant gratification and a little less hard work, thanks. However, that’s not flesh and blood life. My spiritual teacher says:

“Can we achieve honor, status and other things that we want in this material world without a struggle? And when we consider our aspiration for development and advancement in the mental world, that also cannot be brought about without a struggle. That is why, everywhere, whether in the crude or subtle sphere, struggle is the essence of life.”

He also says later on, “[I]t is clear that one who wants to keep away from obstacles has lost the essence of life.” I mean, he’s right. Heaven, a place without struggle, is where people go after they’ve lived, according to some traditions. We call it the “afterlife” for a reason. To be alive, to be on planet Earth, requires overcoming obstacles and that’s also what makes life interesting. If I were to watch a TV show where nothing happened, where the main character got everything they wanted immediately without any conflict before or after, I’d be bored. It would be like watching paint dry, and I’m sure some people enjoy that, but I do not.

The shift for me is recognizing that not only do I enjoy watching people overcome obstacles in the media I consume, but in my own life too. That as much as I complain about how things are hard, and I do wish they were easier, my life is far from boring. There are days when I’m bored for sure, but the tenor of my life in general is interesting. A friend of mine says to me frequently, “I’m on the edge of my seat” in regards to witnessing my life unfold. That’s because I have one plot twist after another, which certainly keeps life exciting.

I dream of a world where we recognize without obstacles, life is boring. A world where we understand we enjoy things more if we have to work for them or wait for them. A world where we remember to be alive means to struggle. A world where we embrace that struggle and realize it’s what keeps life interesting.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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