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Limitation can be good

It’s the happiness of pursuit rather than the other way around.

Limitation is largely viewed as a negative. In fact, you could probably make the case, historically, it’s always been associated with the undesirable. To restrict, to constrain, to rein in or control, to curb (your enthusiasm) – these are things that usually meet with unanimous groans.

“There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it. The last is much the worst, the last is a real tragedy!” – Oscar Wilde

Ah yes the getting what you want versus not getting what you want dichotomy – do you really even know what you want? – and why would getting it be the real tragedy? Could it be precisely because you wanted it? The expectations, the desires…upon achieving your aim, after brief moments of elation, if at all, the driving force goes and the happiness disappears – effectively robbing yourself of your own desire. Perhaps, we’re optimised for the happiness of pursuit and not its opposite like we’re constantly sold.


This idea of being happier pursuing than pursuing happiness I learned from Professor of Neurology and Primatologist Robert Sapolsky who postulates that humans are the “forever hungry” species and not built for satiation. Satiation makes us sleepy/unconscious whereas our incentive drives are conscious and we’re awake. You can see this play out in the world with the numerous pathology, addiction and “false adventures” lets say.


So, how can limitation be good? It may even be necessary. Think of it like this, success works as being inspirational or is only a good thing when it isn’t achievable by everyone. Imagine a society where everyone succeeded? How predictable, dull and boring would that be? A state with no novelty and the tree that always bares fruit. You may be thinking, what’s so bad about that? Well, it robs people of a potential infinite landscape of future possibility, and that’s not good if we’re happier pursuing. If you know you’ll succeed it completely changes your dopaminergic and anticipatory systems. There’s no point in playing the game if you’ve already won, but it’s not whether you win or lose it’s how you play the game that matters in pursuit of victory.


“Being grateful with limitation / lack of success – is it impossible? No. Is it difficult? It can be.”

Gratitude is a hell of thing, and not in that shallow Instagram influencer way, I mean actually being grateful. It seems obvious and easy to be grateful when you get what you want, but how does one show it when they don’t get what they want? How does one practice gratitude when they’re struggling with life? Life can get pretty bad; life can go upside down, so many terrible things going on locally and abroad, but it’s precisely when your world is going to shit is when you need to practice it the most, which sounds incredibly counterintuitive.


Hold up! Wait a minute, it’s my life that is going wrong, how can I be grateful for that? People need to give ME compassion, sympathy and empathy! I don’t need to show that for life! How do you expect me to be grateful when I can barely afford rent and to keep the lights on? How do you expect me to be grateful when I didn’t get the job despite possessing superior skills and qualifications? How do you expect me to be grateful when we’re constantly told that we’re heading towards the apocalypse?


“You’re going to say ‘good’ – Former Navy Seal Jocko Willink

You have a lot of reasons to be upset and angry about a plethora of things; the cards you’ve been dealt, the world, your neighbour’s dog that won’t stop barking. Limitation can be attributed to many categories; physical, financial, social, mental, transcendental, time. It’s easy and usually justifiable to throw your hands up and say “why (have you forsaken) me?”, or you can look at these limitations and say “good” and set to work. You may not be responsible for what has happened to you, but you are responsible for how you deal with it.

“A lot of wealthy people preach gratitude – easy for them to say it – oh, I’m so grateful for the little things in life whilst pulling up to your mansion in a Ferrari. Please just fuck off.”

It’s the aforementioned individuals that really piss people off. A wealthy person doesn’t get to tell a poor person that “limitation is a good thing” – which is why I can tell you haha. If you don’t have these limitations, you can’t turn around and say to others it’s okay don’t worry about having these limitations. Returning to a previous point, to an extent these types of people are “satiated” already, they’re in a state of ease. Like I said before, it’s obvious and easy to display gratitude when you get what you want. I wonder how many of these people would still be grateful for the little things in life if their Ferrari got repossessed and their mortgage foreclosed?


“Variety is the spice of life, but repetition generally breeds better success – So, how much novelty and routine/discipline do we need?”

That is a question you might like to ask yourself because your amount and my amount are going to be two different things. Can everyone succeed? Can everyone have what they desire? No, and I think this is part of the reason why I wrote “Celebrating the ordinary life – why it’s okay to not be exceptional”. How do you be content if you’re “forever hungry”? I don’t have an answer for that, but I’m working on it. Maybe contentment is being okay with selling yourself short? Maybe it involves viewing limitation as a good thing. Eastern philosophy suggests to eliminate desire, but how do I desire to not desire?


Everyone can’t do everything and be anybody – and that’s what makes limitation a good thing. We’re “unlimitly limited” in some sense, but only a select few across time get to truly succeed, and our happiness is in this pursuit.


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