‘The hilltops would not be half so wonderful if there were no dark valleys to traverse.’
Although Helen Keller is correct with her words, we do not need to suffer to be happy. Admittedly, there are advantages in suffering:
(1) After going through difficult times we can become aware of the superficiality of many of our daily concerns, and discover what really counts in life.
(2) Suffering helps us appreciate the good times so that we don’t 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. That in turn will help us satisfy our deep need to belong.
‘When you come across someone who causes you suffering, you have a chance to practise patience and tolerance. Treat it with gratitude.’ – His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
(4) Suffering can build our confidence in our ability to handle hardship, so the next time we are in strife, we know we can handle it. The more often a sword is in the forge, the stronger it gets.
(5) 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’.
So, why do I say we don’t need to suffer to be happy? Because we can grow and be happy without suffering. There are beautiful, happy people who have suffered little. They have sensible attitudes and make the most of their circumstances. And, there are people who have suffered and become twisted and bitter.
‘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.
The point: it’s not the suffering which helps us grow, it’s how we deal with our suffering.
‘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.
Core happiness comes from satisfying long-term innate needs, and two of those needs are discussed in this book: the need to feel safe, and the deep need to belong. When we learn how to deal with our suffering we feel less anxious. That makes us feel safer, and adds to our core happiness.
Here are some other happiness myths:
– The positive thinking myth. We are often told that we need to look on the bright side if we want to be happy. We need to see the glass half full. But is that helpful advice?
– Myth: we need money to be happy. Surely we need money to be happy, don’t we? Without it we would be in dire straits. So, why is it a myth?
– Myth: to be happy we need to be kind. Countless times we are told that becoming a kind person will make us happier. Why isn’t that true?
– Myth: We are happier with only a few possessions. Will having fewer possessions make us feel happier? How does that work?
– Myth: We need to reach our full potential. The life coaches offer to help us become better people, yet in another breath tell us to accept ourselves for who we are. What’s going on?
– Myth: With wisdom comes happiness. Time and again we see in the movies a strong correlation between wisdom and happiness. Do we need to be wise to be happy?
– Myth: We need close relationships to be happy. It’s the biggest, most common myth about happiness of them all. Nearly everyone says it. Yet, it’s not true.
– Myth: We need good health to be happy. That seems obvious, doesn’t it? After all, we won’t be happy suffering the black plague. But does good health bring core happiness?
– Myth: We can choose to be happy. This is one of the most pernicious myths going around. Of course we can’t choose to be happy!
– Myth: Happiness comes from having low expectations. Don’t expect much and you won’t be disappointed, goes the saying. But does that equal happiness? Of course not.
– Myth: We need to foster compassion to be happy. The Buddhists are particularly keen on the idea of fostering compassion. So, should we foster it?