Life…what’s it all about? Nobody really knows. Chances are, though, that you believe many things to be true that logic, experience, and instinct suggest are false.
There are so many misconceptions about life floating around and it’s only natural to accept them over time, especially when they are drilled into us by society and the people in our lives.
While there is no shortage of subjectivity in what follows, hopefully your eyes will be opened to some things that aren’t quite as they may first appear.
1. Life Is Hard And Then You Die
Perhaps the biggest fallacy of all is that life is one long struggle and that, no matter what path you take, it will forever remain that way.
Of course, people face awful circumstances all the time – famine, war, violence, abuse – and death may take the young after a short existence of perpetual difficulty, but these are the exceptions that prove the rule.
The vast majority of people (and especially those able to read this article on their internet connected devices) will never experience a life where their very survival comes under constant threat.
We take the basic necessities for granted and enjoy untold luxuries and benefits in the modern world we live in. When we, the privileged, talk of having a “hard life,” we aren’t being entirely honest. We may face challenges, but we are also blessed with so many freedoms and choices; perhaps the most important being the freedom to choose how we react to any given situation.
So, no, life is not hard. Hard, for most people, is a mental construct that we convince ourselves of. In comparison to the truly desperate, our lives are easy.
2. Life Is Fair
The long-lasting misery of those talked about above has yet another lesson for us: life is not fair and people don’t always get what they deserve.
You could be the nicest, kindest, most caring person in the world, but there’s nothing to say that bad things won’t happen to you. Similarly, the most cruel, vindictive, and immoral people aren’t guaranteed to “get their comeuppance” simply because life says they should.
The scales of justice are broken and you just have to get used to it. It doesn’t mean that you can’t fight for a more fair, equal, and tolerant society, just don’t expect some utopian reality to emerge any time soon.
3. The Big Matters, The Small Doesn’t
We live in a society where the big, grand, and momentous events are considered to have more importance than the small and seemingly insignificant ones. This leads us to think that we must fill our lives with things of great value and impact; that if we aren’t making our mark for all to see then we have failed.
Actually, it is the smallest things that often mean the most to us and to others. A simple life of family and friends is bursting at the seams with joy, happiness and meaning – no less so than one which has a greater impact on the world.
4. Happiness Comes From Something External
‘Happiness is not a fish that you can catch’ may be the title of an album by alternative rock band Our Lady Peace, but it encompasses this misconception perfectly.
No matter where you fish and whatever you fish for, happiness is not something you can go out and catch, find, buy, or acquire by any other means. It is not some external element that can be forged, mined, or otherwise made.
Happiness is internal, coming from within and returning back from whence it came at a later point. If you look for your happiness among the things of the world, you will be forever searching.
5. Life Has A Goal At The End Of It
We may think that there is a goal in life and that when you reach the end of yours, that goal has been achieved, but the only thing at the end of life…is death. Alan Watts, courtesy of this fun animation, explains it just perfectly.
6. You’re The Sum Of Your Achievements
What are you? What does it mean to be you? That’s a tough question to answer, but there is certainly something you are not and that’s the sum of your achievements in life.
You got straight As at school? Who cares? You run your own business? So what? You won the Nobel Peace Prize? Bully for you! The things you have accomplished may be sources of great pride, but they are not who you are; they are just tiny slithers of your greater whole.
You are so complex and yet so simple that there are no words to describe you. You are, and that’s all that can really be said about you.
7. Everything Happens For A Reason
There is a purpose to everything in life – that’s what we like to tell ourselves. This destiny or fate is a comforting idea and, yes, in some ways it may be true in that one thing often does lead to another.
Cause and effect is not, however, the same as reason. Reason infers justification or meaning and there are many things in life that happen for no reason at all. These may be good and these may be bad, but they happen not because some higher force decides that they should; they just happen.
There doesn’t have to be a reason for every single event or circumstance in your life, just as there doesn’t have to be any reason why people are killed, abused, or harmed in some way. Cause and effect may be present, but justification isn’t.
8. Life Owes You Something
No matter how unfair life may seem, it doesn’t owe you a thing. Regardless of what ills have befallen you, or all the kind deeds you have done for others, there is nothing to say that you are due some positive outcomes in your life.
You simply can’t force the good and the bad to balance out in your life or you’ll end up like the title character in B.S. Johnson’s novel Christie Malry’s Own Double-Entry. In his attempt to do just that, he finds himself carrying out ever-greater acts of malice in retribution for what he sees as the bad things that happen to him. Is this the road you want to go down?
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9. There Is An Optimal Path To Take
You may think that there is a good path, better path, and best path to take in life, but you’d be wrong. In fact, there is no path ahead of you at all; you are actually forging a path with every step you take.
You may make decisions you are happy with and you may make some you regret, but you have no way of knowing the full implications of each. What seems like the optimal path may lead to harm or heartache, while your “mistakes” may lead you a place of peace and happiness.
There is just no way of telling, so you shouldn’t worry too much about it.
10. Idleness Is Wastefulness
You’ve got to go out and experience the world, fill your time as fully as you can, and live life to the max….at least, that’s what they want you to think.
This culture can often make the rest of us feel rather wasteful, as if we are squandering our life away doing pointless things or merely sitting idle. Allay your fears – you are doing just fine.
The need to fill every waking hour with activity may be right for some, but living a more serene life can be just as meaningful. It is misguided to say that those who enjoy relaxing with a book, movie, or their own company are getting less out of life than those who travel the world, skydive as a hobby, and eat out 5 nights a week.
11. Everything Is Personal
When it feels as though someone has wronged you, chances are you’ll take it very personally. But look at things differently and you might realize that, quite often, there is nothing malicious about a person’s actions at all.
Because we can’t read minds, we are left to make up our own stories about why people act the way they do. Unfortunately, these are likely to be a long way from the truth. We may take some offense at what a person does, but nine times out of ten they didn’t set out to hurt you.
They probably didn’t even realize that they hurt you, but did so out of carelessness or as a genuine accident. An incident may involve you, but it doesn’t have to be about you; it could just as easily be caused by what’s going on in the other person’s life.
The crux of the matter is this: the world is not out to get you…even if it sometimes seems that way.
12. People Think About You A Lot
Do you ever get that feeling that people are watching you, talking about you, and casting judgement over you?
If so, you are falling prey to yet another of the great misconceptions of life. People most commonly think about themselves, their life, and their actions; you probably play a fairly small part in their thoughts most of the time.
As Shirley MacLaine put it:
At 20, your life revolves around an obsession of what others think of you.
At 40, you begin to not care what others think of you.
And at 60, you realize that when you were 20, you really weren’t being judged by anyone but yourself.
13. Life Was Better Yesterday
It is common for people to yearn for days long since passed as though they really were the very best of times. The problem is that we invariably look at the past through rose-tinted glasses, seeing only what we want to see.
Nostalgia is very powerful, but it neglects to pay attention to anything negative or difficult. We imagine that life was better yesterday because we are choosing to remember just a fraction of the full experience; a positive parody of the past.
If we were to truly investigate the experiences and feelings from our past, we would soon realize that life hasn’t suddenly declined in any shape or form. It’s just that we’re fully aware of the spectrum of good and bad in the present, while we’re blind to one half of the equation in the past.
14. Pain Is Bad
There is no escaping some form of physical, mental, and emotional pain in your life, but the notion that it is inherently bad is a misguided. Pain is an essential feeling that has many important functions.
Pain is a messenger, telling us that something is wrong. It helps us to learn, to adapt, to alter our course in life where necessary. Without pain, we would remain in situations that were detrimental to our wellbeing.
We also need pain to experience joy and happiness because they are two sides of the same coin. If life were devoid of pain, there would be no reference point from which to understand joy. The ups and downs of life would make way for an endless, changeless, monotone reality.
15. We Experience Reality
Talking of a monotone reality is actually a fallacy in itself because what we each experience cannot rightly be classed as reality at all.
Reality is the whole, the limitless and infinite totality of all that is right here at this precise moment. We, on the other hand, only experience a miniscule fraction of it.
Our worlds are made up of what we sense, do, and think with the last being the most dominant. The thoughts in our head and the bubble they create around us is so restricted in its reach that our “reality” is nothing more than a speck of dust floating on the breeze.
And we each experience something entirely different to every other living person, from our own, unique, point of view. Reality is, for the mind at least, forever hidden.
16. Work Hard Now, Enjoy Yourself Later
Some people are consumed by the idea that if you put in the hard work today, you’ll be able to reap the rewards at a later date. In terms of money and wealth, this may have some truth to it, but when you consider all of the things that really matter to us – happiness, love, peace, meaning, and our higher selves – this argument falls apart.
Unlike money and wealth that can be accumulated over time, experiences can only occur in the present moment. You can’t bank joy and love any more than you can collect sunlight and store it for a later date. Feelings, emotions, and the experience of sun hitting your face can only happen right now.
In other words, there is no reason why you can’t enjoy yourself just as much now as in the future, even if you don’t have the financial or material resources at your disposal. Working to the point of exhaustion to make a better future is to neglect having a better present.
17. Life Is A Competition
There’s only so much to go around and we have to fight for what we can get – that’s the attitude that many people take these days. Yet, it’s not a very accurate reflection of the state we’re in.
The need to compete with others and get “ahead” in life is just nonsense because, as the last point made clear, there is nothing the future can give you that the present can’t also provide.
If you come from a place of scarcity, then you will never fully escape from it; the more you may get, the more you’ll think you need. This is the perpetual cycle created when we believe that life is a competition.
If, instead, we saw life as an opportunity for cooperation, we’d find that suddenly we begin to thrive and grow into better people. This is as true at the individual level as it is at the level of society.
18. Life Is Long
The idea that you have plenty of time to achieve your ambitions and enjoy life is false. You may live every second, but you also die every second; time that passes is time that you can never get back.
If you spend your entire life looking towards tomorrow, you’ll wake up one day and realize that you’ve run out of time to do all the things you’ve always wanted.
There is no way to predict how many seconds, hours, or days you have left, but the clock is forever counting down. You may be young now, but old age will creep up on you and soon you’ll be wondering where your life went.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ve got all the time in the world, because one day the clock will stop.
Do you agree with what’s been said here or do you take issue with one or more of the points? Leave a comment below and let us know your thoughts.