Hard Times Make Strong Men

We live in the most prosperous period in human history. Technology has made our lives incredibly comfortable, convenient, and secure compared to past generations. Food is abundant, jobs are less laborious, and amenities are taken for granted.

But with comfort comes complacency. As the ancient proverb goes, “Hard times create strong men, strong men create good times, good times create weak men, and weak men create hard times.”

Key Takeaways

Evidence shows men today exhibit declining strength and risk-taking compared to past generations.

Adversity forges strong character, competence, and resilience according to philosophers and historians.

By seeking challenges, men can cultivate the vigor, vitality, and grit of their ancestors.

Hardship prepares men for the inevitable cycles of strife; prosperity weakens without tests of mettle.

Evidence suggests we may be in the weak men phase of the cycle. For example, research shows testosterone levels have been steadily declining by 1% per year for decades. Lower testosterone is linked to decreased strength, vigor, and vitality.

Other data indicates we are becoming more risk averse. A recent study found the number of people who see themselves as “risk takers” declined from 70% in 1960 down to 45% in 2014. Playing it safe seems prudent, but too much security weakens our grit and daring.

Have we gone soft as a result of modern prosperity?

Past generations of men were hardened by the daily adversity they faced – providing for their families through war, famine, poverty, and hardship. They had no choice but to become resilient, both physically and mentally.

Teddy Roosevelt called this forge of adversity “the manly and heroic qualities.” He wrote, “If from a life of endless physical toil…a man were to grow the strength to do something better than merely perform feats of strength if he were to grow strong in heart and soul as well as in body, then he might well be thankful for the change.”

Today’s man has never known such privation. We’ve never had to test our true mettle just to survive. As a result, our mental toughness goes untested. We’ve grown soft, preferring comfort over callusing our minds to hardship.

The solution is not to seek out unnecessary adversity. But we can cultivate strength through difficult goals and challenges. Take up extreme sports that test your limits. Learn survival skills that build grit. Seek out mentors who demand excellence. Use technology deliberately to expand your abilities.

Marcus Aurelius said, “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” Obstacles make us stronger. Each hardship we overcome expands our capacity, courage, and confidence.

Build physical stamina as well as mental fortitude. Emotional resilience is key. Develop a growth mindset that views struggle as an opportunity for self-improvement. With the right mindset and skills, men can thrive in any environment.

Hard times will inevitably come again. History moves in cycles and eras of prosperity give way to strife. But hardship does not make us weaker. Adversity is a gift that allows us to realize our true potential. As Nietzsche stated, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

Men who embrace this fact will emerge from their trials stronger than ever in mind, body, and spirit. Our comfort and prosperity are not fragile – so long as we remain robust men ready to weather any storm.

The coming age will test men mightily. But hardship is not something to fear. Canadian clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson explains, “The voluntary confrontation with suffering and self-sacrifice allows an individual to transcend his or her own limitations….to develop courage and strength…”

Rather than weaken us, adversity makes us more competent, able, and heroic. It connects us to our primal masculinity.

Comfort and security appeal to our soft side. But ease makes men feeble over time. To retain the vigor of our forefathers requires challenge and exertion. Hard times call us to be our best selves.

The future belongs not to the comfortable but to the strong in body and spirit. By bravely seeking tests of character and skill, men can recapture the lost fire of their ancestors and build a society equal to any trial. The path to greatness begins with embracing hardship as a gateway to new heights of masculine power and purpose. Our best days lie ahead.



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Chad is the co-founder of Unfinished Man, a leading men's lifestyle site. He provides straightforward advice on fashion, tech, and relationships based on his own experiences and product tests. Chad's relaxed flair makes him the site's accessible expert for savvy young professionals seeking trustworthy recommendations on living well.

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