Life Shouldn’t Be Like This

Red haired girl with resigned look, perhaps mumbling, Life Shouldn't Be Like This

I’m getting old. I’ve seen a lot. I worked through personal tragedies; I’ve watched and assisted others through their traumatic moments. I’ve written enough over the years on the difficulties of life that any regular readers of the Psychology Fanatic blog know sometimes a present a bleak view the human experience. I must routinely remind myself that acceptance of life as it is—full of miseries and challenges—shouldn’t obscure the bountiful joys. Is life joyous or sorrowful? Such question violate the fundamental immenseness of life, trying to force complexity into compartmentalized labels. Each of our lives are as they are. Yet, we still cry out from time to time, “it shouldn’t be like this!”

Nothing in life is joyous or sorrowful, we just experience these emotions in connection with life. A complex construction of triggering events, experiential histories, interpretations, and expectations collide, and we feel something. 

Life Shouldn’t Be Like This

We have this odd tendency to label discomforting experiences as a violation of an immutable law. We struggle and blurt out, “It shouldn’t be like this!” Certainly, I have let this seemingly harmless phrase cross my lips a time or two. 

The last few months, my wife and I have been searching for a home closer to the grandchildren (and their parents). Home shopping is fun, however, home buying can be a headache with all the detailed paperwork, contingencies, reliance on appraisers and inspectors, and endless demands of underwriters for one more item.

First of all, I feel fortunate that we can make a move like this. Yet, occasionally in frustration I may ignorantly proclaim, “it shouldn’t be like this.” I only experience these transactions from a very limited perspective, the momentary irritation of doing something unplanned. Somehow the minute, easily navigated annoyance, is paramount, at least to me, to all the unseen purposes behind the request.

What We Don’t Know

Here’s the thing. What we don’t know, still exists, and still exerts it’s influence on our lives. In the case of a home loan, their are numerous stakeholders, each protecting their interest, including regulatory statues designed to protect both buyers, sellers, and the industry. Lawsuits over disagreements, biased practiced, and fraud motivate protections. Sometimes the protection from these nasties is not readily apparent to the lay consumer, leaving us reeling from another request.

Almost everything in life has this grand web of complexity—the unseen factors influencing events. Our crying over undeserved hardship, often is misguided, blinded by a narrow vision and faulty expectations.

Human Life has Always Been Difficult

We often are guilty of rewriting history. Comparing current complexity against our faulty perceptions of an easy past where life was painlessly managed. We love our romantic retelling of the past. Human history is not a joyous story. As I learn about my grandparents, I see life’s marred with as much frustration and sorrow as I experience today.

My paternal great grandfather was a share cropper, living on another man’s property, farming the land for a living. He scraped up enough money to buy his own property. My great grandfather farmed his land and eventually split his lot into two adjoining farms for my grandfather and his brother. Most the land was used to grow alfalfa and raise cattle.

This is a romanticized story of hard work and success. Yet, from the narrow perspective arising nearly a hundred years later, the daily frustrations have faded into the unknown past. Battles over water rights, harsh weather, unplanned expenses, and shifting local politics poked and harassed. My grandfather’s dairy farm required much more work than he initially expected, he almost always was forced to work extra jobs (driving the school bus, for example) to cover expenses.

Grandpa began his day in sub-freezing early morning temperatures worked for three or four hours, ate breakfast, drove the local school bus, returned to his farming chores, drove the afternoon school bus, ate dinner and went to bed so he could start his next day by 3:00 a.m. 

Do we imagine the renaissance as the way it should be? A time in world history where a small minority governed large masses of peasants, the toiled the earth from before dusk till after dark to only keep enough to survive. Starvation ran rampant, mortality rates were gruesome, and survival only achieved because royalty needed the cheap labor.

Acceptance and Responsibility

We aren’t responsible for every ill that happens to us. Yet, much suffering is self inflicted. Acceptance is a difficult concept because it isn’t pristine. Somethings we accept as part of the unknown, other things we accept personal responsibility for and work to change, and still other things we work collectively to change.

Paul Tillich wrote, “life, personal and historical, is a creative and destructive process in which freedom and destiny, chance and necessity, responsibility and tragedy are mixed with each other in everything and in every moment. These tensions, ambiguities and conflicts make life what it is. They create the fascination and the horror of life. They drive us to the question of a courage which can accept life without being conquered by it, and this is the question of providence” (Tillich, 2005, p. 57).

The advise certainly is not to quietly sit and accept life’s tragedy without resolve to wrestle with the givens. These “tensions, ambiguities, and conflicts make life what it is.” We courageously accept that things happen, often beyond our ability to comprehend why. Sometimes, we will never know. Our responsibility, however, is to take these givens, as difficult as they may be, and mold them to fit into our lives.

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Acceptance or Resignation

Gregg Krech in The Art of Taking Action differentiates between acceptance and resignation. He explains that acceptance is not helplessness in the face of uncontrollable circumstances. He writes, “in resignation we may accept our emotional state and take no action whatsoever. This is a type of acceptance that is really resignation. It is what happens when the depressed person realizes he or she is depressed and then continues to lie on the sofa all afternoon in a state of melancholy” (2014, location 459).

Nancy Coller explains that acceptance is not being OK with what is happening. She wrote, “the biggest misunderstanding about acceptance is that it means that we’re OK with the thing we’re accepting, that we’ve somehow gotten comfortable and on board with this situation we don’t want” (2019). 

Gail Brenner designates acceptance as the starting point of change. ​”Accepting things as they are is a beautiful starting point that opens up possibilities you may have never considered” (2014). 

A Few Closing Words

It’s our life. The question isn’t necessarily about properly assigning blame, or neglectfully ignoring pertinent facts. Some events are unfair and hurt. Yet, it is our life. We must live with what has been served. We can stubbornly cling to denials and angry protests or courageously do the best we can to make the most of the circumstances, learning and growing from the adversity. 

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Brenner, G. (2014). The Beauty and Ease of Accepting Things as They Are. Published 8-4-2014. Accessed 9-27-2021.

Coller, N. (2019). Accepting a Reality That Feels Unacceptable. Psychology Today. Published 2-27-2019. Accessed 9-27-2021 

Krech, G. (2014). The Art of Taking Action: Lessons from Japanese Psychology. ToDo Institute; First Edition 

Tillich, P. (2004). The New Being. ‎BISON BOOKS; First PB Edition.

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