“Problems” create meaning

I recently revisited this blog post I wrote almost a year ago. Here’s the passage that inspired the headline, from Oliver Burkeman’s Four Thousand Weeks (p. 180–181):

Behind our urge to race through every obstacle or challenge, in an effort to get it “dealt with,” there’s usually the unspoken fantasy that you might one day finally reach the state of having no problems whatsoever. As a result, most of us treat the problems we encounter as doubly problematic: first because of whatever specific problem we’re facing; and second because we seem to believe, if only subconsciously, that we shouldn’t have problems at all. Yet the state of having no problems is obviously never going to arrive. And more to the point, you wouldn’t want it to, because a life devoid of all problems would contain nothing worth doing, and would therefore be meaningless. Because what is a “problem,” really? The most generic definition is simply that it’s something that demands that you address yourself to it—and if life contained no such demands, there’d be no point in anything. Once you give up on the unattainable goal of eradicating all your problems, it becomes possible to develop an appreciation for the fact that life just is a process of engaging with problem after problem, giving each one the time it requires—that the presence of problems in your life, in other words, isn’t an impediment to a meaningful existence but the very substance of one.

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