Life Is Hard Book Summary - Life Is Hard Book explained in key points
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Life Is Hard summary

Kieran Setiya

How Philosophy Can Help Us Find Our Way

4 (357 ratings)
13 mins
Table of Contents

    Life Is Hard
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    Lessons from a bathroom floor

    He doesn’t remember the movie, but he remembers the pain.

    Kieran Setiya suffers from chronic pain – a condition that first hit him at age 27 when he was at The Oaks, a movie theater in Pittsburgh. The pain stabbed him in the side and sent him running for the restroom. Urinating brought some relief, but the pain returned when Setiya got home. It kept him awake and hallucinating on his bathroom floor all night long.

    After multiple tests and trips to various doctors, the only professional remedy Setiya received was this advice: “Try to ignore it.”

    For 13 years, that’s exactly what Setiya did. He was uncomfortable at times, and sleeping was a struggle, but the pain did not make his life worthless or unlivable. He advanced his career and landed a job at one of the world’s most prestigious universities, MIT. He supported his wife and mother when they needed him, bought a new home, and engaged in social activism. When the pain got worse 13 years later, it led Setiya to a new doctor with better insights – and the motivation to write his book.

    Setiya’s chronic pain may have prevented restful sleep, but it didn’t prevent him from enjoying most of life’s activities. The same can be true for just about anyone with just about any disease or disability. Sure, being a wheelchair user means you can’t run – but it doesn’t mean you can’t play basketball, listen to music, enjoy a sunset, or fall in love. The reality is, we all have some restrictions on life because we simply don’t have enough time or energy to master every skill, play every game, and enjoy everything in the world that’s worth enjoying.

    There are, of course, some disabilities or levels of pain that prevent so many activities or cause so much discomfort that they prevent us from living well. This is where circumstances make a major impact: diabetes can be managed by someone with access to affordable insulin and reliable health care, but it can be debilitating and deadly to someone who’s not as privileged.

    At times, pain can become overwhelming. But it can also teach compassion. In Setiya’s case, once he’d experienced the trauma of hallucinations on the bathroom floor, he had a lot more empathy for others experiencing their own nightmares. There is solidarity in suffering, which leads us into the hardship of the next section – loneliness.

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    What is Life Is Hard about?

    Life Is Hard (2022) takes a close look at common struggles – like infirmity, loneliness, grief, and failure – through the lens of philosophy, as well as fiction, sports, history, and personal anecdotes. By examining the familiar hardships of the human condition, we can learn how to live well.

    Who should read Life Is Hard?

    • Anyone feeling overwhelmed by the hardships and injustice across the globe
    • People trying to cope with personal struggles
    • Fans of practical, accessible philosophy

    About the Author

    Kieran Setiya is a professor of philosophy at MIT. His writing has been featured in the Los Angeles Review of Books, the TLS, the London Review of Books, the New York Times, Aeon, and the Yale Review. He is also the author of Midlife

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