Grasping beauty

· 2 min read

What problems do you want to solve?

Winter in Borisoglebsk, Alexey Bogolyubov, 1881 Winter in Borisoglebsk, Alexey Bogolyubov, 1881

You will always have problems. Even if you don't have a problem in the present moment, you won't have to wait long to encounter one. You'll either have a new problem to solve thrust on you by the changing external world (something breaks or stops working), or your lack of problems itself becomes a problem - you become bored or unhappy and need to shift your emotional state.

This seems bad - to be constantly surrounded by problems, and in some ways it is. But it also provides opportunity. You have the ability to choose the problems you want to tackle. This is caveated by constraints and limitations, but the point stands. Not making a decision means your problems will arrive by fate or luck, with it being unclear how that will work out. Choice lets you outsource problems you find particularly difficult or tedious, and focus on problems that are engaging - even to the extent you enjoy working on them. The worst problem imaginable is torturous, while the best problem is the most rewarding thing we can conceive of. This freedom means you can tilt your problems away from chance towards better, more engaging problems. We don't know the limit to how far you could fill your life with the best problems you can find.

Video games are a series of problems to be solved that are engaging to the point that people pay money to encounter the challenges contained within them. This is one vision of what the ideal life could look like - a game with the most enjoyable problems you could imagine, taken on willingly 1.

Another perspective here is to consider suffering. As the Buddha said, life is suffering. In the same way that we can choose our problems, we can also choose our suffering. Would you rather be isolated or overcrowded? Stressed or bored? We cannot avoid suffering, but have choice in the activities we take on, which tend to have certain types of suffering associated with them. Creative pursuits are isolating, as you have to seek out new ideas that are by definition undiscovered or unpopular, and can't be found among others around you. Caring pursuits where you look after others can become overwhelming if you try to take on too many of the problems and emotions of others 2.

Problems and suffering are two sides of the same coin. You cannot solve a problem without exerting effort and suffering towards a solution. If you do not solve the problem, that will lead to more suffering or problems in the future 3. Suffering has a lot of negative connotations, and I think the framing of life as a series of problems provides a more hopeful, optimistic message.

To make use of these ideas, start with the problem framing. What challenges do you want to take on? What would a really exciting problem, that you might even pay money to encounter, look like? If you're stuck after narrowing it down to a few options, bring in the frame of suffering. What type of work is associated with solving those problems? How well suited are you to take on that exertion?

Got any questions or comments? Drop me a message on Twitter @graspingbeauty