Sisyphus is a figure in Greek Mythology, a wise and cunning king who committed crimes against Gods, and was thus condemned to eternal hard labor. His everlasting punishment was to roll a big rock uphill, only to watch it roll back down for the sake of doing the job again and again. Hard, frustrating, exhausting and meaningless labor without end.
From the story, we know Sisyphean tasks as the ones that are hard and futile, the type of tasks that different philosophers found everywhere – from an endless thirst for power, being too attracted and attached to things you can’t have in life or that you will certainly lose someday, to a desire for perfectionism and not to mention general hardship together with absurdity of life.
The absurdity of life and Sisyphus’ condemnation were inspiration for Albert Camus to write The Myth of Sisyphus, where he deliberates over the path to potential salvation. In the world of chaos, disorder and a lack of meaning, a man must become a rebel, the struggle itself must be enough to fulfill a person’s heart, he argues. His concluding thoughts are that the salvation to absurdity is in imagining Sisyphus happy.
Imagining Sisyphus happy – that can be really illuminating.
Accept the absurdity and struggles of life
There isn’t a single person alive who has the privilege of not dealing with a constant flow of problems. Problem after problem. Rock after rock. A big part of life is solving problems. Small ones, big ones, old ones and new ones. In life, you have to be a problem solver, a fixer. Most often the best approach to problem solving is to start with the task immediately.
You pick that rock and start climbing uphill. Because the longer you wait, the heavier the rock becomes, even if it’s only in your mind. You can, for example, easily add weight by feeling sorry for yourself. Sisyphus picks up the rock as soon as they meet at the foot of the hill, and you should do the same with your problems. Rare are the problems that need time to pass in order to be solved. And rare are the problems that go away by themselves with time. Even rarer are rocks other people are prepared to pick up for us.
You should enjoy problem solving, you should enjoy challenges. Problems are nevertheless nothing but challenges. You are born to deal with problems. In TV shows and movies, you watch heroes fighting in tough situations. Sports competitions, video games, board games and crosswords are nothing but challenges.
The only difference is that you see some kinds of challenges as very exciting, and other ones as painful. The ones you don’t choose and that contain your emotional engagement are usually the painful ones. But instead see all kinds of problems, even the toughest challenges of life – like job loss, breakups and so on – only as an opportunity to grow, improve, become better; find meaning in solving the hardest problems of life.
In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer. – Albert Camus
In the same way, you have to accept the absurdity of life. Death is inevitable, no person knows what happens after we draw the last breath, the true meaning of life is a matter of personal interpretation, it’s impossible to determine which God is the right one and how come we haven’t made contact with aliens yet if there are billions of stars in the galaxy similar to the sun (it's called Fermi paradox).
Sisyphus’ pain begins when he becomes aware of his condemnation. Because it’s easy to live in a lie, at least for a while. It’s painful to become aware of the absurdity of life and harsh facts. But really happy and wise becomes the one who learns to accept the punishments of life and sees meaning in them, an opportunity to grow, create, contribute and connect with life.
There is no way to escape the absurdity, neither with lies nor with naivety, the only way to confront it is by fighting, you have to be a rebel. Because once you accept the absurdity of life, you realize that any absurdity of life is nothing but an opportunity to design the life you want.
For example, you can create meaning for your life as it suits you best. You can decide what you’ll believe in and what will bring you the highest level of happiness day by day. If it was all known and set, we would all live life on the same terms. Now you can freely decide on what terms you will live your life. You are free to make out of the absurd whatever you want. That is a part of your life strategy – giving meaning to the life absurds.
You can freely decide what benefit you will see in carrying the rock. Does it represent training your body, mind or practicing discipline? Maybe contributing to the world with hard work, learning to love yourself no matter how heavy the rock is or developing resilience? It’s completely up to you. No matter what situation you’re put in, you can always find a way out of the absurdity of life. You can always innovate your way out. Only by looking at things differently.
There is nothing in life but dealing with struggle. You can find happiness in that.
Sisyphus is successful, imagine Sisyphus happy
At the end of the day, Sisyphus manages to push the rock all the way to the summit, again and again. Without any failure. In a way we could say that Sisyphus is successful. Bruce Lee was definitely a Sisyphus, that’s why he said he’s not afraid of a man who practiced 10,000 kicks one time, but of a man who practiced one single kick 10,000 times. I bet Sisyphus became the best mountain rock carrier.
Blessed are the hearts that can bend; they shall never be broken. – Albert Camus
If you want any real achievements in life, you have to be Sisyphus in a way. You have to repeat daily hard actions, even if you know that the output you get purely with your effort will be lost. You have to find comfort and meaning in the effort itself, even if it’s futile at the end.
- If you want to be fit and have a great body, you have to do something for your body daily, while minding your diet and rebelling against gluttony and laziness. Even though dust you are and to dust you will return. But every exercise can be so much fun and every healthy meal can fill you with so much gratefulness and energy.
- If you want to be rich, you have to discipline yourself to save every penny and develop your competence levels high, so you can provide as much value to the markets as possible. But in the end, you will leave everything behind. There is no form of money you can take with you to the other side. But you can really find happiness in developing your talents and providing value to the world.
- If you want deep relationships, you have to water them daily like a flower, pull out all the weeds that are trying to stifle your love, but still everything comes to an end and relationships are nothing but broken glass. But relationships are meant for enjoying the present moment, not controlling what will happen with them in the future.
Consistency and daily struggle are the hard road that slowly leads to success. But even if struggle doesn’t make you massively successful, you should find satisfaction in the fact that you revolted and that you fought. It’s the path that matters, not the end goal. The fact that you are rebelling against the absurdity of life is what counts.
Albert Camus suggests three aspects as part of the revolt and fight against the absurd life: Revolt as never settling and accepting any reconciliation in your struggle, freedom as the fact that you are completely free to believe, think, behave and do with your life as you want, and passion as a way out of an absurd life, initiated by the question: if there is no single meaning and one sure direction in life, why not follow a diverse and rich life experience?
Now imagine Sisyphus happy. Be happy.