Suffering – why are we all so keen on it?


I’ve noticed that on the whole people love to suffer and I wonder why this is. It’s very hard to get people to admit that there are aspects of their lives which are enjoyable, working easily, smooth or fulfilling. But it is very common to hear people talking about how difficult their job is, how hard, in general, all aspects of their lives are. Even if people are happy to concede that there are good parts of their lives they will nearly always counter with something that isn’t so great. It’s as though nobody wants anyone else to think their life might in any way be easy.

Frozen windscreen or beautiful pattern?

I have been aware of this tendency for a long time but it came into sharp focus while I was listening to the radio recently and the person being interviewed was a poet. She had written some poems on the subject of happiness. The interviewer asked how difficult it had been to write these poems on such a theme, and the poet answered ‘Extremely difficult.’ Now the fact that she said this wasn’t the amazing thing. The amazing thing was that as soon as I had heard the interviewers question I knew what the poet’s answer would be. I knew she would say it had been very difficult because no-one ever says things they do are easy. But not only did she say it had been difficult, she said it with some relish. Do we think that somehow we make ourselves look better, cleverer more adept by first framing our life as very difficult – and then surviving it?

Clouds or silver lining?

Then there’s suffering on the physical level. We all know people who just love telling you about how much they are suffering from various ailments. There are people I come across on a regular basis that I know not to enquire about their health otherwise I will be swamped in an outpouring of their real or imagined suffering. They are also the people who do not want to entertain any suggestions of things that might help with their predicament. What would they be without their suffering?  Any suggestion of a slight change in diet or addition of some natural remedy is batted away without the least consideration. I also know people who suffer from serious illness, they are not usually the ones to talk about it, but may still be resistant to trying anything that might help with their lot. I find this very difficult to understand. The only way to understand it is to assume that some people ‘enjoy’,  on some level, maybe unconsciously, whatever being ill brings them. Is it sympathy, is it attention? Probably. It can also be an excuse for not getting on with life. People embrace the role of ‘victim’ of their circumstances or health problems. It gives them a get out for not addressing other issues in their lives.

We all experience trying times in our lives and things can be really tough but the people who emerge from these times stronger and wiser are almost always the ones that don’t descend into victimhood or embrace the suffering, but the ones who keep moving.

Wasn’t it Winston Churchill who said,

‘if you are going through hell, keep going.’

It’s alright not to be alright all of the time but why, when things are okay, do we feel that somehow we should make people around us think it’s worse than it really is?

I wonder how things would be if we acknowledged the easy aspects of our lives more and spent less time focussing on the ‘suffering.’ If society valued achievement that came without so much effort but from clarity of thinking and joyfulness of activity maybe more people would feel that they could admit that there were aspects of their lives that were easy and fun. At present, it seems that to be taken seriously one has to present all tasks as difficult and challenging. How many people do you know who would answer the question, ‘how was your day?’ with ‘not too bad,’ even if they have had a perfectly fine day?

End of a perfect day?

I saw a post online the other day that said,

Has it really been a terrible day or just a terrible few minutes that you have milked all day?’

Now there’s a thought!

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