The Pleasant Life vs. The Good Life vs. The Meaningful Life

Have you ever heard someone say “Humans are hard wired for struggle”?

What does that even mean, right?

Simply put – it means…

If it doesn’t take some actual work, we aren’t going to feel gratified by the process called life.

Iron Man races, Spartan Mud Runs, marathons… why do we choose this discomfort?

Seems counter intuitive. Right?  Wrong.  With technology and innovation, we’ve done a hell of a job making life easier and more comfortable.  However, even as we continue to evolve as these brilliant creatures called humans, underneath that big powerful intellectual and emotional brain is an old lizard brain, who’s original job was simply to survive.  Fight, flight. Freeze.

And to grow as humans, we ultimately need something to fight against.  And more importantly – fight FOR.

We are, like other animals, hard wired for struggle.  Let me give you an example of what I mean.

This awesome example is borrowed from the book “Authentic Happiness”.  (A great read, by the way.)

The author tells a story of a man who kept an exotic Amazonian lizard as a pet in a laboratory.  In the first few weeks after getting the lizard, the guy could not get the lizard to eat.  He offered it lettuce, mango, even ground pork and then flies.  The lizard refused everything.  He offered him a ham sandwich.  No response.  This lizard was going to starve to death.  It had refused everything the man put in front of him. Then the man, who was going about his day, without much thought, tossed a New York times on top of the untouched ham sandwich.  The lizard took one look at this configuration, crept stealthily across the floor, lept onto the newspaper, shredded it, and devoured the ham sandwich.  The lizard needed to stalk and shred before it would eat.  It’s part of a lizard’s makeup to seek out challenge, risk, then reward.  He needed to utilize his strong hunting instincts, which have allowed him to survive and thrive throughout evolution.  We aren’t terribly different.  At our core, is the desire and need to survive something.  It’s how we grow.

Pleasures vs gratification – what makes up the difference between a pleasant life and a good life. Gratification is not always pleasant in the good, meaningful life – in fact, it can be downright difficult and uncomfortable.

Mastering something is gratifying, for example.  You see it in young children every day.


Especially as adults where there are not new challenges at every turn.  So we must seek out challenges.  We need growth, or else, all we’re doing is living the pleasant life.  Not the good life.  Sitting on the beach with a cocktail is lovely. It’s easy too.  It’s most certainly the pleasant life.  Hiking treacherous 8 miles to a secret waterfall in Hawaii is the good life.  You’ve struggled, you’ve challenged yourself and you are rewarded with natural splendor at the end of the process (and more importantly, a sense of accomplishment and a memorable experience).

And how about the process itself?  Most likely, you are not obsessing about your To Do list, or who you might have forgotten to cc: on the work email.  You are laser focused on not falling off a cliff.  You are marveling at the wonder of mother nature.  You are in the present.  You are in the flow.  Flow, as it’s been described to me, is a state of gratification.  When your mind doesn’t race about the past or the future.

That is the difference between the pleasant life and the good life.

I’m not saying you have to go out and win an Ironman.  We all have different strengths and talents and desires.  What I am saying is – go out and do something to ensure the good kind of struggle: growth.

Maybe face a fear that have been dogging you for years?  Maybe it’s been holding you back from real, gratifying growth? From doing what you were meant to do? From the meaningful life?

Yep, you have a chance to LEVEL UP from the pleasant life to the good life to the MEANINGFUL LIFE. Do you dare?

For me, my big fear was around money. I would tell myself, “I’m gonna be a bag lady, homeless, living on the street.”

Wait…what? I’m going to be a bag lady on the street?

Where does this idea come from? I’ve never been homeless; heck I’ve always been able to pay my own bills. Even when I was first out of college, I was living in an apartment in Brentwood, a tony neighborhood in Los Angeles.  Granted, the one bedroom apartment was practically subterranean, with a grim grey carpet, and I split the tab with my boyfriend to afford it.  And I racked up some credit card debt, but I’ve always been able to support myself.  And later years, I made enough money to be able to support myself AND others.  And be generous with money.

So what is THAT about?

My therapist would tell you it’s because I grew up in a household where money was unpredictable. My father worked for himself, and in an industry that is tumultuous, with many highs and lows (real estate). My mom got the fun challenge of managing a family of 6 through those uncertain times.  From my (naïve and incorrect child) perspective, neither job looked like much fun.

With this perspective, I subconsciously vowed to always support myself, and to make tons of money.  Money equals freedom, I thought. Money buys happiness, I thought. I was wrong.  Money helps.  And money certainly makes things easier.  I paid to make discomforts of all types disappear.   But it’s the pleasant life, not the good life.  And it will never be the meaningful life.

But boy, was I scared to end up a bag lady on the street.  And that irrational fear kept me real motivated.  At some point though, in order for me to truly grow, I was gonna have to face that fear.  And because I don’t do anything half assed, I went ahead, and quit my very lucrative job and started my own business.  I thrust myself into the most wildly unpredictable situation possible.  I not only met that fear with open arms, I also chose to love a freelance artist, and even moved to a new city.  Oh, and we had a baby!!  Apparently, my growth spurts happen in 3s (or 4s).  And hell yes, it was uncomfortable and unpleasant at times.

But after spending 17 years running away from a long-held fear, I understood it felt worse to keep on running. And I wasn’t going to grow without facing it down. So I turned around and I looked at it. I didn’t blink. And I am continuing to evolve to handle whatever this life throws at me.

And I’m not a bag lady on the street.  True Story.

But how did I do it?

It was a lot of work.  The hardest work was around tackling and dismantling the “bag lady” limiting belief.  I had to look at whether that giant fear was, actually rooted in fact. What was the evidence that supported me becoming a bag lady?  Was there evidence to support me NOT becoming a bag lady (the opposite story).  That included looking at past examples of job changes, how I had supported myself, my savings account, my strong resume, etc.  It also forced me to look at even bigger fears – like who was I? Where did my “worth” come from (if not my current job)? What was I capable of? What happens if I fail?

That said, I didn’t just sit on a cushion cross legged and meditate and manifest.

I also took the tactical steps of going back to school to get training, being honest about the financial investment this kind of change would take.  Saving money. Making lifestyle changes. And I knew, Ironically, if it got real bad, I could ask my parents for help.  I’d never actually be a bag lady on the street.   Sometimes I don’t feel like I’m living the pleasant life, but most days I am so heartened to feel that I’m living a good AND meaningful life.

And you can bet that as soon as I feel like I’m living the pleasant life, I’ll find something new to struggle against (for?). Because I’m hard wired for it.

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