Suffering: A Catalyst for Change

Bad stuff happens. If you’re human, you have experienced more hardships than you can count. Whether you lost your job or a relative, sometimes the anguish seems like it’s too much to bear. It’s often easy to wish that bad things would never happen to us. Why can’t we be like those other people who seem to have everything going for them? Nothing bad ever happens to them.

Of course, this is a fallacy. Bad things happen to all people. Everyone who is born must die. Every one of us is confronted with constant challenges which test our will. We can’t escape suffering. It’s an integral part of the human experience.

If we can’t hide from suffering, then we must embrace it. Here’s how:

  1. Gain perspective from suffering
  2. Find meaning in suffering through sacrifice
  3. Use suffering as a catalyst for change

To think of it, without suffering, could we truly understand joy? Our experiences are always relative. Two people making $60,000 in the United States could feel completely different about their situation. Marcus was unemployed for five months and finally got a steady job after constantly searching. Stephanie has been working at the same job for 20 years and has received modest yearly raises. Who do you think is more grateful for their current position?

Without suffering, it’s easy to take everything for granted. Our default isn’t gratitude. Why should we be grateful for the way things are? If everything has always gone perfectly for you, you don’t consider how lucky you really are.

When you suffer, you gain perspective. When you break your arm, you suddenly become grateful for its use when you recover. When you lose your job, you are that much happier once you are employed again. When you lose a loved one, you suddenly realize how lucky you are to have everyone else in your life.

Viktor Frankl, a psychologist who was imprisoned in concentration camps during World War 2, explained that humans can find meaning in life through suffering. It can create purpose in life. Nobody wants to suffer, but we can’t control our circumstances. We can only choose how to react.

Suffering can act as a catalyst for action. Entrepreneurs frequently come up with their best ideas after they lose their jobs and their backs are against the wall. The necessity to innovate can result in magnificent new solutions. In Antifragile, Nassim Taleb explains that we become stronger in response to external stressors. Just like muscles, our personalities become stronger after they have been broken.

We should be grateful for suffering! Without it, we might stay within our comfort zones our entire lives, always putting off our dreams for tomorrow. Suffering can be just the thing we need to push us over the edge to make the change we desire.

Nobody wants to suffer, but suffering is part of being human. When confronted with difficult situations, we have a choice: we can despair or we can overcome. We must use our negative experiences as tools to grow. Whether you have broken a relationship, your leg, or a contract with an employer, there is always something you can learn. Embrace the suffering and be grateful for what you have. Being human is a wild experience with countless ups and downs — this is what makes life beautiful. Suffering can be an advantage — use it to grow.

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