“How do I start valuing my life?” was a question I received shortly after I published Universal vs. personal values. I wrote in that essay that we often understand the value of a thing only when we lose it. Because when we lose something we have an experience of loss and that experience gives us understanding. But it is possible not to lose something to know what that would feel like. We can ask ourselves for instance: “What would happen if I would lose this or that?” And if we are truthful to ourselves we can have a pretty good picture of how that would turn out.
The value of our life depends in many ways upon the value of questions that we ask ourselves and that is determined by our understanding. People who don’t question themselves much and don’t ask valuable questions don’t live good lives. Some say there are no stupid questions. But I would argue to the contrary. A question that leads nowhere or just keeps us trapped in a mental circle is a stupid one.
When a difficulty arises people with weak understanding would ask something like: “Why did this have to happen to me?” Such a question doesn’t hold much value. For people who think like that, difficulty is seen as an unnecessary and pointless problem.
People with intermediate understanding would ask something like: “What do I need to do to overcome this?” That is a much better approach because it immediately sets us on seeking a solution. For such people, difficulty is seen as a challenge.
People with superior understanding would ask something like: “How can this serve me?” or “What is this thing here to teach me?” This kind of question is the best because it doesn’t focus solely on the difficulty but on the underlying reason why it appeared in the first place. For such people, difficulty is seen as an opportunity to improve themselves and their lives.
Of course, not all life’s problems/challenges are like this. There are experiences we just have to live through. They cannot be “solved”. They just go away on their own sooner or later. We can’t understand them and it’s a possibility we never will. I am not saying to seek meaning in everything that happens to us. But if we approach a difficulty from a perspective that it has to teach us something we have a much better chance we will emerge from it not only wiser but also more appreciative towards life.
When we stop running away or denying our so-called problems we can start paying attention to them. When we do that we start seeing them as challenges and opportunities. When we see them in a new light we can learn from them. And when we learn from them we start appreciating they were there in the first place.
Marcus Aurelius, a Roman emperor wrote two thousand years ago the following: “Our actions may be impeded […] but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting.” and then he concludes: “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” When we have that kind of perspective on life there are no such things as “pointless problems” anymore. Only challenges and opportunities to be lived through that strengthen us, expand us and bring us appreciation towards life itself. And when we adopt that kind of view, life becomes an immensely valuable experience.