Is worry worse than hardship?  It is a fairly silly question.  Hardship – true hardship sucks.  It is bad.  It pretty much defines bad except in the Nietzsche sense of making you stronger unless it kill you.  But hardship might kill you.  Worry probably not.

But nevertheless I’m going to argue that worry is worse.  Or at least that from where I sit it causes more suffering.  (Now where I sit is a pretty privileged place where I experience far more worry than hardship.  I’ll submit my arguments might be biased due to that.)

Everyone experiences hardship.  Some at least.  What are all the horrible things that can happen: death, illness, privation, rejection.  That list could be endless.  But for most of us, except for the few, those hardships may occur in our lives, they may define sections of them, but the hardships are not our whole lives.  For the fortunate, they may indeed only be a small portion of their lives – a crucial portion, but only a portion.

So we can take the sum total of hardship divide by the number of people and get a mean.  Some number.  I think it is pretty low.  10%.  Maybe less.  Certainly my contribution to date it less.  My argument doesn’t depend on whether you agree with my number, but only that I can convince you it is less than the worry mean.

That is where we take the sum total of the time spent worrying and divide that by the number of people.  And some people do worry all the time.  Or it seems that way.  I worry more than I experience hardship.

And worry is useless.  Right?  Here’s the worry decision tree:

1) I’m worried about something I can change.  Either I:

a) Change it and stop worrying.

b) Keep worrying to no effect.

2) I worry about something I can’t change.   Either it will:

a) Happen – in which case I’ll experience hardship or

b) It won’t.

In my simplistic little tree the worry never adds anything.  On 50% of the paths everything is resolved.  On one I’m a twit.  On the last and only the last hardship happens.  75% of the decision tree is wasted.  On that 25% it isn’t wasted, I was worried about something real, but the worry doesn’t make a lick of difference.

[Note: 1a causes lots of worry.  What if the changes makes things worse?  What is the change doesn’t do anything at all?  I waste a lot of time on those worries.  It tends me towards 1b – the twit option.  You can recurse the tree and apply the decisions again – maybe infinitely, but if you are worried and can do something, doesn’t it just make sense to do that?]

Hardship.  I’ve got a little tree for that too.

  1. You die.
  2. You endure.
  3. You endure while making everyone else’s life miserable with whining and moaning.
  4. You do something to resolve the hardship.

But worrying doesn’t appear in the hardship tree at all.  Once you’re experiencing hardship there is far less to worry about.

Now the crucial difference, my whole argument really, between hardship and suffering is this.  You can be happy while suffering, but not while worrying.  People experiencing true hardship can be joyful.  It is the Bobby McFerrin hypothesis.

Worry is like cocaine.  It is a luxury of badness we permit ourselves.  We may think it helps in the short term.  We may delude ourselves into that, but ultimately it won’t.  It is a luxury of time as well – there is no time to worry when you are busy resolving issues, being happy or enduring suffering.

I started by making the point that I think more time is wasted in worry than experiencing hardship.  I may very well be wrong there – not sure.  But I’m not wrong about worry being useless and for worry eroding happiness.

Hardship sucks.  It well and truly does.  But you just might find it easier to deal with than the worry beforehand.


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