Is a Life Without Struggle Worth Living?

Suppose that all your objects in life were realized; that all the changes in institutions and opinions which you are looking forward to, could be completely effected at this very instant: would this be a great joy and happiness to you?’ And an irrepressible self-consciousness distinctly answered, ‘No!’ At this my heart sank within me: the whole foundation on which my life was constructed fell down. All my happiness was to have been found in the continual pursuit of this end. The end had ceased to charm, and how could there ever again be any interest in the means? I seemed to have nothing left to live for.

.. There is something comical about Mill’s self-implosion; it’s as if he had spent years looking forward to a sailing trip only to suddenly realize, upon embarkation, that he hated boats.

.. It wasn’t because he thought he had the wrong goals. Mill never did abandon utilitarianism, though he later modified Bentham’s doctrine in subtle ways. Instead, Mill tells us that his crisis was born in a concern about whether happiness is really possible in the perfect world he sought to achieve — a world without struggle:

[T]he question was, whether, if the reformers of society and government could succeed in their objects, and every person in the community were free and in a state of physical comfort, the pleasures of life, being no longer kept up by struggle and privation, would cease to be pleasures.

..  possibility is that he is worried that, if we ever were to achieve an ideal social world, we would quickly take it for granted, or become “spoiled.” It’s a familiar tale: the child that always gets what he or she wants ends up forever unsatisfied and always wanting more (psychologists call this the hedonic treadmill)

.. the 19th century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once upliftingly put it, “life swings back and forth like a pendulum between pain and boredom.” When we are not consumed by the desire to achieve something (food, shelter, companionship, wealth, career, status, social reform, etc.), we are tortured by boredom.

.. “The octave consists only of five tones and two semitones,” he explains. By the laws of mathematics, there is only a finite number of possible tonal combinations. What will happen to music (and, indeed, composers) when there are no more combinations to be discovered? And what will life be like when the work of social reform is done?

.. Some part of us prefers to struggle or quest after an ideal, rather than attain it.

.. In movies and literature, for instance, our favorite protagonists tend to be flawed or troubled in some way.

.. It was only after he began reading, not philosophy, but the poetry of William Wordsworth, that he was fully convinced he had emerged.

.. Mill was searching for a reliable source of joy, one that could survive the unbearable goodness of the world he sought to achieve.

.. The answer, he discovered through reading Wordsworth, is to take refuge in a capacity to be moved by beauty — a capacity to take joy in the quiet contemplation of delicate thoughts, sights, sounds, and feelings, not just titanic struggles.