“Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.” – Scott Peck
It is counter-intuitive to think of suffering or pain in the same breath as happiness. When we think of happiness, we think about ease, pleasure and euphoria. Our basic nature as humans is to seek out comfort and pleasure. We want to increase our pleasure and minimize our pain. But deep, lasting happiness is more complex than simply optimizing for pleasure.
True happiness is born from the pursuit of purpose. When we are driven by a goal, pulled to pursue something bigger than ourselves, we are called to new levels of action and struggle. We are forced to go through this hard and uncomfortable journey and come out the other side.
In-between where we are now and where we want to go, there is the gulf. There is our inertia. There are all the things we don’t know. There are all the mistakes we will make. There is all the fear and self-doubt. There is the past trauma. There might even be the boos and jeers of the people around us. But if we want to reach our destination, if we are to get what we want, we have to cross this gulf, we have to embrace the suffering.
Now, there is bad suffering. The millions of people living in abject poverty kind of suffering. The suffering brought upon by disaster and tragedy. And that is terrible, but not that is not what we are quite focused on here. We are talking about the everyday struggle, the general angst of living, the ache and pains and complexities of being human. The fact that anything worth doing usually requires some form of effort, some level of suffering, of pushing out of your comfort zone into unfamiliar territory. And we can never run away from that. If we are to live well, we must learn to suffer well, and suffer with purpose, suffer in the right things.
Suffer well, but do not suffer needlessly. Suffer in pursuit of your calling and your vision. Don’t suffer fools, complainers or the tyranny of your own mind and emotions. Suffer for the right reasons.
Suffering comes in the form of the extra hours spent on the side hustle after a long day at the office. Suffering comes in delaying gratification and saving or investing money instead of balling out. Suffering comes in the fatigued thighs and burning lungs while pounding away on the treadmill. Suffering comes in stepping up to bat and doing the work when all you want to do is stay in bed and watch Netflix.
Suffering is not just the hard thing though, it’s not just the ‘hard work’ the ‘hustle’. Suffering is also facing the thing you usually try to ignore. Suffering is facing ugly truths and making tough decisions. It is doing the small but important thing you have been avoiding. Suffering is just as much pulling an all-nighter working on a project, as it is taking a step back to really think and decide if you should be working on this project at all.
The suffering that matters is the suffering that comes from stepping out of your comfort zone, from facing the thing you avoid, doing the thing you fear or have decided is too much for you to do. Because those are the things that usually matter the most. They are the things that could change your life.
The world is tough, you must build resilience. The tougher you get, the more adept at handling suffering, the more your endurance will increase, the more second nature it will become and the easier the pursuit of your dream will get. In fact, you might even start to welcome it, to relish it.
We always want to escape pain, that’s why we drive ourselves to distraction – social media, drugs, liquor, sex, whatever your poison is. But instead of avoiding the pain, we should lean into it. We embrace the suffering because the promise of what is to come is so much greater than where we are now, or the pain we must endure to get there.
Like the buffalo that runs to the storm instead of away from it, we can lean into the pain and find that it not only passes quicker, it leaves us stronger, more resilient, fulfilled and ultimately happier.
More often than not, the seed of suffering bears the fruit of happiness.