“Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”
– John Lennon or Fernando Sabino… people aren’t sure
I’ve heard a lot of people use the above quote, or something to the same effect. If life’s got ya down, don’t fret! Chin up! It’ll all get better.
When I hear people say this, it doesn’t just make me roll my eyes. I feel myself get angry. A friend of mine used this line of thought in a conversation with me this week, and since then I’ve really taken some time to reflect on why it makes me so unhappy.
I think the surface level of my frustration is the indirect and unaware disrespect such a statement places on those who truly suffer in life.
I remember hearing that my old classmate was diagnosed with cancer when we were twenty. I remember learning about my neighbor’s youngest child going missing and subsequently being found at the bottom of a lake. I remember seeing my brother stillborn, dead from the beginning.
Some sad stories aren’t such direct sob stories. Some sad stories involve decades of self sacrifice and settling as people succumb to their circumstances. People make the wrong mistakes over and over. Sometimes these people just end up bitter and full of regret. Sometimes they end up broken. Maybe you passed by this person on the street as they were begging for change or delirious from drug abuse. These stories aren’t as easy to sum up in a line, but they exist too.
Some stories can be retold as an archetype. Go talk to a social worker, or a therapist, or an ER/ICU doctor. Maybe they can recall names, maybe not. But they will probably have a general story they’ve watched unfold 1000 times, with a seemingly recurring main character, who falls to the same tragedy every time. The overdose story, the growing-up-in-a-drug-household story, the rape story, the chronic depression story.
I feel like I could continue this list ad nauseam. The point is not any one narrative. The point is not to make you sad. It is that life is short, fragile, and full of the unknown. Life does not linearly progress upwards (always getting better) nor is it any particular length.
But that’s not me, you might say. Those are people in dire circumstances, but the quote still applies to me! I promise none of the people in the above stories knew this was the turn their lives would take. One day things were fine and the next they were not.
And worse yet, some people suffer every day until they can’t bear it. At one point, they probably told themselves it would get better. Maybe they recited this quote. But after years of the same thing, some people give up. They opt out of life. The decline was so painful, they’d rather end it than keep living.
So on behalf of all of these people, my first instinct is to say — shut up. Wake up. It might not ever get better. This false reality paints a picture that excludes pain because it isn’t pretty. It’s a history book without war crimes. Just because we don’t like it doesn’t mean we don’t acknowledge it and deny that it is reality.
I digress. There’s another deeper level to my frustration with this quote.
The sentiment that things will get better has:
- lack of ownership
The ethos of these quotes is that you do not need to put effort into worrying because, somehow, circumstances will inevitably get better.
Occasionally, this is true. Sometimes randomness hands out blessings. Outside circumstances, or sometimes even internal ones, can change in a random fashion. That is part of life. However, they can also randomly get worse. Some people win the lottery; others get cancer. It’s not certain; it’s random.
Out of survivorship bias, I have heard many people who have randomly had their lives improve pedal this idea to the masses. But just because over time things got better for them doesn’t mean that’s a truism. This person could’ve gotten very lucky. (They also could’ve had a trivial problem, that needed very little luck to offset.)
But this is the wrong message. If you are not happy, I would never suggest you leave it up to randomness to solve. It is not a certainty that it will randomly get better. Time doesn’t heal all wounds. It may get worse, or life may end before it gets better. I’ve seen it happen before.
The opposite of randomness bringing you happiness is purposeful intervention making you happy. Some people are blessed enough in life to have another person that intentionally pushes for change. But to some degree, this is also random. Why is that person in your life? Why did they decide to help you? What if there isn’t this person in your life? In true random fashion, there is no guarantee of when this type of savior will enter your life, if at all.
That leaves you. You are the only certain part of your life; when you go away, well, that’s the end of life. You are the only guarantee that you have.
I’ve been told this thought is incredibly pessimistic. But I actually don’t think it is.
The most sobering thought you can have is realizing that life is too short to not be happy. The way that some people live their life (or even talk about it,) you’d think that being happy is an after-thought to just going through the motions. I don’t want people to live mediocre, unsatisfied lives because they never thought twice about the alternative.
I would say I have an optimistic view on life. I’d say you have some amount of ownership in your destiny. That you have a chance for happiness. Sometimes the odds are incredibly stacked against you, but the one thing you can do is try.
So when people say “if it’s not okay, it’s not the end” it makes me sad for them. Because I wonder if they know that the end doesn’t give a damn about them. I wonder if they have given some consideration to what they want out of life, and if they’ve realized that there’s a chance that if they purposefully took action, they could be their own source of happiness.
So, yes, it might not get better. So now, what are you going to do about it?