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Finding Contentment in a Sisyphean Existence Amidst a Global Pandemic

“Happy New Year!” my parents and I exclaimed (almost) simultaneously to one another, as we snuggled up comfortably across the television. The clock has finally struck midnight. What a year it has been, I thought to myself. The usual annual gathering with twenty-something members of our extended family, complemented with barbecued corn-on-the-cob, board games, and the singing of Auld Lang Syne as we gather around the upright piano at my grandparents’ abode, is rightly-so not held this year. Yet, as I took a sip from my mug, the most dominant feeling is that of contentment, and I have none other than Albert Camus to thank for it.

Camus, the mid-twentieth century absurdist French philosopher/writer, in his essay The Myth of Sisyphus once wrote, “the workman of today works every day in his life at the same tasks, and this fate is no less absurd. But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious.” Having spent the vast majority of my time since the beginning of March at home (apart from the occasional trip to the grocery store), I’ve come to the realization that the parallels being drawn between Sisyphus and ‘the workman of today’ have never been any more apparent than it is now, as the days have slowly merged into one endless repetition of waking up and going to bed, akin to the fate of Sisyphus who was condemned to push a boulder up a hill only to observe it roll back down again for eternity as a punishment for his trickery in cheating death. Yet, Camus argued that it is only through this awareness and subsequent acceptance of the absurd condition, void of hope, would Sisyphus eventually be able to place himself above fate and start living, as “there is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn.”

Like many others, I’ve had my fair shares of plans being put to a halt this year. And incorporating Camus’ view on life into one’s mindset – in choosing to consciously focus on the present – was initially a matter of self-preservation during this uncertain time. Yet to my surprise, as past experiences and expectations of the future are (temporarily) disregarded and the sorrow stemming from the inability to have control over one’s life slowly subsided, I’ve started to find more enjoyments in the mundane – to genuinely immerse oneself in activities as simple as having that morning tea in the front yard, and be greeted with the greeneries and the faint chirps of the birds; ofttimes overlooked, and whose purpose used to be solely seen as a means to start off the day.

Although a puritan adoption of such a mindset might not always be applicable, the next time I hop on a taxi or cook for dinner, I’ll make sure to savor every moment of the journey, as much as the destination. After all, Camus famously concluded his work with the lines, “each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself, forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

Reference

Camus, A. (1965). The myth of Sisyphus, and other essays. London: H. Hamilton.

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