‘The hilltops would not be half so wonderful if there were no dark valleys to traverse.’
Is Helen Keller right, Mr Bashful? Do we need to suffer to be happy?’
She is right in one way, but no, we do not need to suffer to be happy. Admittedly, there are advantages in suffering:
1. When we go through difficult times we can become aware of the superficiality of many of our daily concerns, and be prodded into changing our perspective to see what really counts in life.
2. Suffering helps us appreciate the good times with gusto, and to not take them for granted.
3. Suffering can enhance our capacity to understand another person’s pain, which will foster compassion and strengthen the bonds we have with others.
4. Suffering can toughen us, make us resilient. It can build our confidence so that the next time we are in strife we are more likely to feel we will handle it. The more often a sword is in the forge, the stronger it gets.
Q. ‘So, why is it a myth? Why isn’t suffering a key to core happiness?’
We can grow and be happy without suffering. I have met beautiful, happy people who have suffered little; they have the right attitudes and make the most of their circumstances. And there are people who have suffered, and as a result have become twisted and bitter. It’s not the suffering which helps us grow, it’s how we deal with our suffering.
Q. ‘Some happiness experts reckon we can become happier by fixing our problems and getting rid of the suffering. Others believe we need to suffer in order to appreciate the good times and be happy. In which camp are you , Mr B?’
Neither. I don’t want you to spend your life avoiding the abyss; nor do I want you to take a running jump into the abyss. I’d like you to develop the capacity to stand at the edge of the abyss and feel comfortable that if you were pushed in, you could handle it.
‘It is not true that suffering ennobles the character; happiness does that sometimes, but suffering, for the most part, makes men petty and vindictive.’
Author, Somerset Maugham.
‘I used to spend many years looking for positives in what happened to me, because it’s very important to salvage meaning from schizophrenia. It is not a beautiful experience for most people. Nor is it a mystical experience. Life would have been much better if I hadn’t had it. . . . Most people do not grow through experiencing schizophrenia. They grow through how they choose to live with it.’
A quote from Simon Champ in the book, ‘Resilience’, by Anne Deveson.
‘When you come across someone who causes you suffering, you have a chance to practise patience and tolerance. Treat it with gratitude. It is rare. Just as having unexpectedly found a treasure in your own house, you should be happy and grateful towards your enemy for providing that precious opportunity. Because if you are ever to be successful in your practise of patience and tolerance, which are critical factors in counteracting negative emotions, it is due to the combination of your own efforts and also the opportunity provided by your enemy.’
His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Thomas more has a few colourful words to say about the benefits of suffering: ‘Nothing could be more precious, then, than a dark night of the soul, the very darkness of which allows your lunar light to shine. It may be painful, discouraging, and challenging, but it is nevertheless an important revelation of what your life is about. In that darkness you see things you couldn’t see in the daylight. Skills and powers of soul emerge from your frustration and ignorance. The seeds of spiritual faith, perhaps your only recourse but certainly a valuable power, are found in your darkness. The other half of who you are comes into view, and through the dark night you are completed.
You become the wounded healer, someone who has made the descent and knows the territory. You take on depth of colour and range of feeling. Your intelligence is now more deeply rooted and not dependent only on facts and reason. Your darkness has given you character and colour and capacity. Now you are free to make a real contribution. It is a gift of your dark night of the soul.’
Thomas Moore, from his book, ‘Dark nights of the soul’.