Recently, I was feeling low. And strangely, in this rather depressive state, I continually heard a couple of words strung together as if they were an anthem for life. It seemed that whenever I expressed my woes, they were met with the expression, ‘That’s life’. An expression that stopped any further discussion, or at least made me feel resigned to a pre-destined world. I began to wonder what ‘that’s life’ actually meant. And why did people feel the need to express this when I was feeling down?
I spoke to a friend about ‘that’s life’ and she told me my meandering mind had gone too far; people are forever saying things and ‘that’s life’ was simply a throw away comment. And again, according to her, I was being a casualty to high drama. She finished off by telling me about the healing powers of yoga and green tea.
But language affects the way we think and how we look at the world. And if you keep saying something long enough, you’ll start to believe it’s true. I was beginning to feel that life was full of disappointment by continuously hearing the expression. ‘That’s life’ – a bleak and mundane sentiment which only added to my depressive view.
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Consider the times people use this expression. Whenever someone has a stroke of bad luck: ‘That’s life’. Whenever something’s unfair: ‘That’s life’. Whenever life isn’t going the way you want: ‘That’s life’. The expression renders life as, on the whole, disappointing. But life is ALL that we experience – good and bad. We are always in life, we’re never out of it, yet we are only reminded that we’re in life when we’re disappointed by it. Are we all guilty of speaking half-truths?
I started to feel sorry for ‘Life’ and how we had marred it with false accusations and our thoughtless use of language. If Life were a person it would be the victim.
Life isn’t black and white as we inadvertently suggest when we say, ‘that’s life.’ Life experience helps us understand that life is mostly a grey area. However, years of living and the wisdom it garners must surely make us conclude that life is technicolour. Life is the hot pink flush of your first date. It’s the azure sea that you swam in on your summer holidays. It’s the slate grey colour of that day when it was so cold you heard your bones rattle. It’s the black hole you fell in when someone you loved died. And it’s the green of the hills you had to run to. It’s the warm yellow colour of hope, the heart stopping red of despair and it’s the blinding white light at the end of the tunnel.
Perhaps, then, it’s an impracticality to say ‘that’s life’ every time we are content with life or happily swimming in it? Imagine saying, ‘that’s life’, when you’ve just read a good book, each time a happy thought crosses your mind or when you’ve just made a wonderful connection with someone. So if it’s impractical to say ‘that’s life’ every time we are happy, responding with ‘that’s life’ when the chips are down couldn’t be further from the truth. Life isn’t mostly disappointing – it’s mostly good!
There is a grain of truth in the feeling we sometimes have that life is mostly disappointing, in that pain seems to last longer than happiness. Pain clasps us close to its bosom and happiness is fleeting. The ultimate pessimist, German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer said: “Life swings like a pendulum between pain and boredom”, concluding that life is insufferable. But I think if we’re mindful of our happy and content states as much as we are mindful of our depressive states, the pendulum swings in favour of Life.
I didn’t take my friend’s advice of taking up yoga and drinking copious amounts of green tea. Instead, to help me out of my depressive state, I paid more attention to all of the small details in life that made me happy: the random unexpected conversations I had with people; the letter I received from a friend. Last night, I went out with my cousin, we had my favourite meal and we laughed until I cried. That’s life.