We often hear that challenging environments are a necessary ingredient for success. We need productive tension and constructive competition to stretch our limits and do more. However, much as tension can be good or bad, and competition can be good or bad, the idea of a challenging life can be done in a positive way or a negative way.

“Remember diamonds are created under pressure so hold on, it be your time to shine soon.”

Sope Agbelusi

One should neither strive for an easy life nor a hard one. Although an easy life sounds relaxing and enjoyable, and a hard life can create the pressure for success, an easy life also breeds complacency and mediocrity, while a hard life breeds embitterment.

Nor is the truth in the middle. Striving for a life that’s the right mix of easy and hard doesn’t accomplish much, either. Besides a range from easy-hard, there’s an entirely other axis that’s far more important: How meaningful what you’re doing is. Let’s just call it meaning.

A hard life that is meaningless is just pure suffering, as described by Nietzsche. However, even a hard, but meaningful life (stoicism) is not the end goal, because there is no intrinsic value to difficulty. Wouldn’t you prefer an easy, pleasurable life? That is hedonism, the pursuit of pure pleasure. While pleasure, unlike difficulty, does have intrinsic value, it does not have intrinsic meaning. There is no higher purpose to pleasure.

When you combine these, you get what we might call “enlightenment” – a life that is easy, but meaningful. (Note: I hesitate to use the term “enlightenment” due to its pretentious connotations, but it fits). It has higher purpose, but is not difficult. The reason that so few of us ever reach that quadrant is because nobody ever starts there. A human doesn’t crawl out of the womb seeking higher purpose and an effortless life.

However, many people do start in suffering – over a billion people lack access to proper sanitation and clean drinking water. Further, many people are born into hedonism, as they experience no hardship, but grow up in a protected bubble.

Enlightenment, then, is something you have to grow into through a series of levels, so to speak.