Suffering is necessary for happiness – “Olive is crushed to make the best oils. Grapes are squeezed to make the finest wines. Roses are pressed to make the most fragrant perfumes. Have you been crushed, squeezed, and pressed by life’s trials and difficulties?
As a minor online influencer, I get a lot of people messaging me all the time asking me questions. Mostly, the questions run in one direction. “I feel so lost, I don’t know what I am doing with my life, I feel like the universe hates me and is giving me an especially hard life, I feel like a failure, what should I do?”
When I hear those words, my first reaction is to smile. Not because I’m cruel, or sadistic in any way, I don’t like other people in pain. But I smile because it reminds me of my trials by fire a few years ago, where I said the same things in my journal several times a week.
I was lost, I felt alone, I felt like I had lost everything, every identity I owned, I felt like an absolute loser/failure, and I wondered what my next steps should be.
I share this story often with people because people think that I have always known what I wanted to do with my life. After all, I come across as so powerfully confident in their interactions with me. If they only knew the truth!
Well, that’s why I am constantly sharing my own story of despair and suffering, so that they can realize not only that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but that it might appear sooner rather than later, and only if they keep on going consistently on that miserable path.
Without Suffering, No Happiness Exists
In the book, ‘No Mud, No Lotus’ by Thich Nhat Hanh, he delineates this concept of no suffering, no happiness, extensively. If you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend it. But it opened my eyes to what I was unconsciously realizing through my endeavors through life and work.
I have been slowly over the last few years, going through the trials and tribulations, realizing that I’m unhappiest when I have no challenges. Of course, challenges are just another (more positively inclined) word for suffering.
Most people, including me, avoid suffering like it’s the plague. We want everything to be soft and steady.
We don’t want the boat to be rocked. Serenity now… Insanity later is a quote from Seinfeld, and that describes the trend very well.
If we spend way too much not dealing with our issues, we will eventually have to deal with them. But, also, we will spend all of our lives searching for something to fill that hole, that gap, between suffering and happiness, usually lots and lots of inane consumption.
But, if we just sit down, in stillness, and realize that suffering is an innate part of life, a crucial part of happiness, that’s when the wedding bells start ringing.
I Avoided Suffering/Challenges Because I Thought The Point Of Life Is Peace
I imagined when I was younger that if I did everything right, according to the tenets of traditional society, and I set myself up with a huge income, and a big house, and a couple of kids and husband, everything would settle down, and all of the madness that I have to deal with daily would dissipate in a haze of ecstasy and joy.
Of course, the more I tried to smooth out my life, the more the rough bumps and potholes appeared ruining everything. I used to hate those rough bumps and potholes. I used to imagine that everyone else has it easy, but I, unfortunately, have to deal with the worst of life. It all sucked, but only for me.
As soon as I went through the trifecta of suffering, by losing my job, my boyfriend, and my identity, all in a matter of a week, I realized, oh god, I have nothing, I am nothing, I have no suffering, but also no happiness.
Little by little, I started adding one or two challenges here and there. I started making sure that I meditated every day, and I started learning how to trade options on my own. I started bringing new challenges into my life, by moving into an apartment downtown by myself and starting a new job in a new field.
The more challenges arrived into my life, weirdly enough, the happier I felt. Not only because I could see that I was strong enough to deal with all of the challenges, but also because the challenge of the suffering made me feel like I was accomplishing something great.
Even Now, I Ensure My Life Doesn’t Get Too Smooth
As I got older and wiser, five years later, I’m sitting here, writing this post, and I realize that I still do that. I ensure whenever my life gets too smooth, too serene, and too ‘boring’, I add in a bit of spice.
I know that my mind, body, and spirit will get bored if they don’t get challenged enough. They want to be used and abused.
Thus, I will try new things, new sports, new ideas, new tactics, and anything new, to keep things interesting, and challenging enough for me.
This means, that I end up ‘working’ a lot. I spend most of my days, doing something or the other, not in an attempt to escape from the moment or glorify the business of life, but to keep my mind and spirit engaged.
They need it. They get bored without it.
The challenge soothes them, enthralls them, makes them want to keep on learning and growing. Makes me reach higher and higher with my potential and my goals.
I started my YouTube channel last year to add to the challenge as I was afraid and I had never done something like that before.
Same thing with my podcast. And my new friendships. My new business ideas.
I started all of it, to keep on growing, learning, and challenging myself. I get bored otherwise, and then that’s when I start feeling useless and like a failure.
Positive Stresses Vs. Negative Ones, Kelly McGonigal’s Teachings
Not only do Buddhist monks like Thich Nhat Hanh advocate suffering, but scientific researchers like Kelly McGonigal, in her book, The Upside Of Stress, try to explain the same. She says that human beings have been taught by society to avoid stresses of all kinds, but of course, there are different kinds of stresses.
One kind is the negative one – it is the stuff that paralyzes us, and makes our system shut down. But there are positive stresses as well.
Learning a new language, playing a new sport, starting a new business, and so on. These are all positive stresses.
They help us grow as human beings. They aren’t pushing us down, but pulling us upward, into our highest potential.
Without these stresses, we would feel those feelings of loss, failure, and misery.
These challenges/stresses/sufferings make us feel alive. They bring a sense of vitality into our soul and mind. They pull us up into the yonder, rather than stamping us into the ground.
My positive stresses at the moment are the business I am building, the YouTube channel I’m growing, the new job I am learning, the new friends I am meeting, the new travels I am experiencing, and the new meditations I am doing every day.
All of this keeps me engaged and happy. Happier than ever. I’m happier now than I have ever been. Because I’m not pushing stress away, but inviting it in, like a guest, who is going to stay for a while anyway, so why not just enjoy your time with them?
This Teaching Is In Direct Opposition To What Society Says
Unfortunately, everyone has been brainwashed to believe exactly the opposite. We have been told over and over again that our greatest goal should be to make oodles of money, to sit by a beach, and do nothing for the rest of our lives.
I believed this for the longest time. And then I tried it for a few weeks and was so miserable, that I never want to go back again.
I find that the most miserable people around me, are also the ones who have no goals, no aspirations, and no challenges/sufferings in their life. They are bored AF, and they hate their lives. Not only that, but they hate themselves, because they feel like failures, as bums, as good-for-nothings.
Society tells us over and over again to avoid stress like the plague. Run away from it. Walk away from it. Etc.
I agree that some kinds of stress are terrible for us, and we should run away from them. But as mentioned earlier, we should try and replace the bad stresses in our life, with good ones, so we can keep challenging ourselves, and keep the lotus of happiness growing with the mud of suffering.
As soon as you realize that society is wrong, and your utmost goal in life should be to bring more of the positive stresses into your life, that’s when you are going to feel the vitality of life, the aliveness, and beauty of life, seeping back into your spirit. This is where I live right now.
One Cannot Live The Other – Suffering And Happiness Are Intertwined
Light cannot exist without the dark. Right cannot exist without the left. Thus, suffering and happiness are intertwined with each other.
They cannot exist without one another. It is impossible!
Try to do this thought experiment. Try to imagine removing the left side of your phone. There is no left side, only right.
Try to imagine it now. It’s impossible, isn’t it??? There is no way to remove the left side of your phone.
Your phone will always have a left and right side. Always.
They are intertwined. There is no way to remove one and keep the other.
Thus, it’s the same with suffering and happiness. They are interconnected in a way that can never be separated. We cannot do it.
It is physically impossible for us to do so. But, we have been told that we should try and remove all sources of suffering, so we can be happy.
That is a contradictory statement. It is impossible. Just like you cannot have the left without the right, you cannot have happiness, without suffering in equal measure.
It is all balanced. This universe is perfectly made up to have equal parts of everything.
Not too much suffering. Not too much happiness. Equally balanced, so we can live an equanimous life.
What Kind Of Suffering Can You Bring Into Your Life?
Recently, a bright young girl messaged me asking me the exact question I outlined above for you. She was bored, and she felt like a failure.
Needed something to do, but nothing was keeping her attention. She felt tired all the time, and she was seriously feeling like suicide might be the only option.
I recommended to her exactly what I have outlined above. I asked her to bring a challenge into her life that would keep her attention. She thought maybe joining the military would be a good idea. I encouraged her, not because I think the military is a useful structure in any way, but I thought the challenge of getting fit, and doing the tests, to get into the military would be exactly the kind of thing that would light her up.
I don’t know if she took my suggestion or not. But that’s what I tell everyone who comes into my life and asks me about happiness.
“How are you so happy all the time?” so many people ask me all the time. It’s a complete mystery to them.
How can you be happy in this world where everything is falling into pieces?
Well, because I do the best I can to keep the world from falling into pieces, in my way. I do my best by challenging myself regularly. Always searching and looking for ways to bring more and more challenges into my life.
That is my penultimate goal. To constantly be challenged positively, so that I can forever bring more and more happiness into my life.
Suffering Isn’t The Devil We Make It Out To Be
Recently, I wrote this post about work not being the devil we make it out to be. The idea is pretty similar to the blog post here.
Work is something that society tells us we should abhor. We should eschew work. Run away from it to a cheap island, and live in peace for the rest of your life.
Don’t work or try to work as little as possible.
But I see the people who are the happiest are the ones who are feeling the most challenged in their life, perhaps through work, perhaps through other things.
Most of us are not going to quit our job to start our businesses. Primarily our challenges are going to come from our jobs. From that source of divine suffering. Bosses, colleagues, reports, presentations, and more.
It is all there to challenge us and to keep us going towards our highest potential. Helps us learn and grow. Helps us grow the lotus of happiness through the mud of suffering.
What is your mud? Where is your lotus growing?
How is it growing? What are you feeding it?
It always comes back down to us. It is our responsibility always to grow the lotus of happiness. We need to find sources of suffering for ourselves that mesh well with our personality.
For me, working in a corporate position wasn’t conducive to happiness, but being an entrepreneur and freelancer is. You will be different in that regard. Everyone has their way of finding happiness.
Find it, and grow it. The challenge is yours.