After my post Life. Is. Hard., a friend of mine left the following comment on my Facebook page:
A question that your post does not raise is: would changing your circumstances make things better for you but harder for those you love? At this point in my life, my questions shift from “How much pain am I in, and how painful would changing my circumstances be?” to “How much pain can I endure such that those around me can feel less pain?”
I thought that it was some really good feedback, and that it deserved an answer, so here it goes.
First of all, I don’t think this situation falls completely outside of my original point, although, I do agree that I never explicitly discussed it. I also wasn’t able to come up with a good summary phrase at the time, although I’d have to say it’s opportunity cost. Yet another economic concept that I enjoy quite a lot.
The basic idea is this: every time you make a decision, you give up your other options (for the most part). If you go left, you could have gone right, if you turn on Cerulean you could have turned down Lampson and not almost get into a car accident, etc. In economic terms, the opportunity cost is the value of the next best option than what you chose. Let’s say you’re given the option to choose between two candy bars. One of them you value at $1.00, the other you value at $0.75. Being clever, you take the $1.00 candy bar. Your true economic profit is only $0.25. Why? Because in order to get your $1.00 candy, you gave up that $0.75 candy. You’re still better off, though, because you went for the better option.
If you had instead chosen the candy valued at $0.75, you would have felt an economic loss of $0.25. This is the situation I was describing. This is a defecit in your life caused by continuing to live in Situation A while Situation B is available and clearly a better choice. Whether this situation is eating the second-best candy bar, or being stuck in a dead-end job you don’t enjoy when you know you could get a better one.
If yours is a situation where you are experiencing discomfort for the sake of people you love, I don’t count that as a defecit. At least the way I’ve experienced the world, seeing the people I love being happy is worth far more than the pain I have to go through to be there. For a while, I was dating a girl who was a fan of the show The Bachelor, and while I was not a fan of the show I endured it because it made her happy. So overall, the value I placed on her happiness outweighed the value I placed on my pain (the term is used loosely) and I experienced an overall gain.
So as long as the pain you’re enduring produces a greater happiness, or reduces a greater pain in people you love and value a lot, then you’ve got to be something right. If somehow it gets to the point where you’re expending yourself to an unmanageable degree and the happiness you’re providing to others starts making you feel unappreciated, or taken advantage of, something needs to change. Maybe it’s as simple as explaining how you feel to someone who isn’t treating you well in return. Maybe it’s as complicated as realizing one of your best friends is actually a toxic influence on your life and you’d both be better off seeing each other less. Because the question above still asks “How much pain can I endure?”
So I’m not saying that this is the perfect way of thinking about situations, or that it necessarily applies at all times. But if there’s a major concern in your head that is upsetting you on a regular basis, maybe you need to think about it in these terms. Is it harder to keep doing what you’re doing now? Or is it harder to live in a world where you’ve change your life? That world includes all the effects your decisions have on the people around you – your loved ones and your casual acquaintances. There are tons of things I’d like to do, but in order to do them I’d have to give up a lot of commitments I’ve already made – which would hurt a lot more than that occasional itch to go across country performing stand-up or whatnot.
One last thought: if you look at your life, and you see that someone close to you is hurting, and you are not satisfied with that, then you are looking at this same situation, just from a different angle. You start wondering what you can do to make the situation better. Maybe it involves you doing something that’s hard for you to do, whether it’s apologizing for something you wish you didn’t have to own up to, testifying on a friend’s behalf, or any number of other things. You ask yourself if the pain you’d have to go through is worth it to see the situation get better for your friend / relative / loved one, etc. In a lot of cases, you’ll be willing to endure a new hardship to reduce the hardship of seeing someone you love in pain. The question has a different wording, but the thought process is astoundingly similar.
If you have the capacity to do something mildly uncomfortable to improve someone else’s life tenfold, you might be exactly what they need right now. And down the line, when you need the same, maybe someone else will be inspired to step up for you.
***Thank you again to my friend for leaving me this feedback. I’ve also added a Contact page so that if you feel I’m missing something, or you’d like to hear a post on a certain subject, please feel free to shoot me an email. Alternately, leave me comments on my blog posts. I’ll see them, and respond as I see fit – either in the comments section as well, or as a new blog post if it needs more answering. Looking forward to hearing from you!***