If the world is such a great place, why am I suffering?
There’s nothing new about complaining how miserable life is. Ancient Romans complained about suffering and pain. The philosophers of that time responded to complaints humorously. For example, Seneca said, “Remember that pain has this most excellent quality: If prolonged it cannot be severe, and if severe it cannot be prolonged (because you will soon die).” Similarly, Marcus T. Cicero said, “All pain is either severe or slight, if slight, it is easily endured; if severe, it will without doubt be brief.”
A sense of humor not only lessens our burdens, but makes life worth living. Even in the most trying circumstances, we can keep our humor. Saint Thomas More, for example, expressed his wit even moments prior to his execution. Before being beheaded on July 6, 1535, he was asked if he had any last words. Addressing the crowd of onlookers, he told them that although no one had ever seen him lose his temper, today they would see him lose his head!
What can we say to those who believe life is miserable? Well, what if it is? If life is terrible, people need help. They need to be encouraged, uplifted, cheered up, and made to laugh. And if we volunteer to help, what do you suppose will happen? As we brighten the lives of others, won’t we experience happiness? Won’t those we help also experience the same? And if we’re all happy, doesn’t that prove that life is not miserable? Actually, life simply IS. It is neither great nor miserable. It is our ATTITUDE that is sunny or gloomy, not life.
Most of our problems come from focusing inward, instead of outward. Notice the focus on “I” in the title of this article. We need to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and start feeling sorry for others. We can show compassion and help to reduce their burden. We also need to understand how life works. Can we have friends if we refuse to be a friend? Can we expect others to smile at us when we don’t smile at them? Do we have unrealistic expectations, believing the world will be handed to us on a silver platter? Do we fail to realize that we get out of life what we put into it?
What is our purpose? It is to grow, unfold, actualize, or reach our potential. And the universe’s purpose is to help us grow. It does this by giving us challenges to overcome. Many people are unhappy simply because they miss this point. They view challenges as hassles, burdens, and suffering instead of opportunities for growth. We need to use the difficulties we face to grow better, not bitter. Ask yourself, is my current situation a mountain of dung or a mountain of fertilizer, which is necessary for growth?
Granted, overcoming difficulties can be painful, but as Ben Franklin said, “There are no gains without pains.” Besides, which would you rather have, the pain of discipline or the pain of bitter disappointment? Can we experience the exhilaration of victory without hardships to conquer? We are not supposed to grow numb with fear by life’s challenges, but use them to discover who we are. Deng Ming-Dao adds, “Although it is tempting to resent disaster, there is not much use in doing so… Whether we remain ash or become the phoenix is up to us.”
More Tips on Relieving Suffering
a) Look at the big picture and stop exaggerating your own importance. Accept the laws of life. Don’t resist hardship. Welcome it as an opportunity. When you do so, you disarm it of any power over you. “It is your resistance to ‘what is’ that causes your suffering.” (Buddha)
b) When you learn how to overcome obstacles, you become more valuable. You will be in a position to help others and your joy will multiply. Why be satisfied with the joy of success when you can add to it the joy of helping others?
c) Stop looking for peace and happiness in all the wrong places. The only way to FEEL good is to BE good. The only way to BE good is to DO good. That is, all we have to do is everything we ought to do. When we do our best, we won’t feel regret. When we do what is right, we won’t feel guilty.
d) Stop worrying. Face real problems, but don’t fret over what MAY happen in the future. Doing so is a waste of valuable energy. Don’t let your imagination run wild. It has a habit of imagining the worse. It doesn’t make sense to grow stressful over an imaginary problem.
e) Don’t fear fear, welcome it. It can be exhilarating. As Connie Chung said, “I wanted to be scared again… I wanted to feel unsure again. That’s the only way I learn, the only way I feel challenged.”
f) Realize that you are not alone. If you could read the hearts and minds of others, you would be shocked to learn about their fears. Don’t think you are the only one having a tough time. We all experience pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, so get with the program. “Suffering” is the admission ticket to the game of life.
g) Count your blessings. Don’t forget to include the misfortunes you avoided. For example, I just lost my job. Yipes! That’s a disaster. But my family doctor lost his wife in an auto accident. So, I’m very fortunate; far better to lose my job than my wife.
h) Hang out with people that will uplift you, not bring you down. “I say stay away from the miserable people, because misery does love company. Just look at a fly strip. You never see a fly stuck there saying, ‘Go around! Go around!'” (Margaret Smith)
Summing up, hardships are not negative events, but positive opportunities. “Suffering” allows us to develop courage and character. Regarding courage, Aristotle taught, “Suffering becomes beautiful when anyone bears great calamities with cheerfulness, not through insensibility but through greatness of mind.” And regarding character, Helen Keller had this to say, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.” By now, we should be aware that the world IS a great place after all. However, not everyone has reached this understanding. So, when you meet someone complaining about life, show a little compassion and cheer them on their way. Who knows? They may learn from your example.