Life is difficult and full of suffering. Survival itself comes with adversity. Success, by whatever measure you choose, is difficult, requiring time, energy, and competence—and perhaps a bit of good fortune. With all of this being true, you get to choose what kind of suffering you prefer.
You might prefer healthy suffering, the kind that provides meaning, purpose, and a host of other rewards. Alternatively, you may prefer a type of suffering that produces only greater suffering.
If you develop the habits of laziness, sloth, procrastination, and a general lack of industriousness, you will surely suffer the outcomes those habits invariably produce. You will have too little of what you want, be worth too little to those who might provide you with opportunity, do too little of what needs to be done—when it needs to be done, and produce little.
If you believe that other people are responsible for your current state, that they prevent you from having the things you want or need, or if you envy others who have more than you have and believe that life is inherently unfair, you will suffer without a positive change to the current state. The longer you carry these beliefs and the more they become embedded in your thinking, the more you will suffer. Your suffering will show up first as complaining, then negativity, then cynicism, and then nihilism (a chronic form of suffering).
Wanting reality to be something different from what it is, believing the world should conform to what you consider to be ideal, or believing you are entitled to something without having worked to obtain it, will all cause you to suffer. Though you suffer, reality will not conform to your ideal, nor will anyone recognize your entitlement.
Some try to avoid the forms of suffering by abusing drugs, alcohol, or other substances, leading only to new and greater forms of suffering, even if they experience momentary relief from their suffering. Some try to avoid work and cheat the system, only to suffer later after the discovery of their bad decision. Their low moral intelligence produced their suffering (even if that decision was a momentary lack of character and ethics). Still others seek comfort by breaking the commitments they make to the most important people in their lives, a pattern that not only creates suffering for them but causes others to suffer greatly.
This is an unhealthy type of suffering, producing no benefit to the one who suffers.
It takes effort and energy to be industrious, to take the initiative, to fight the desire to seek comfort instead of exertion, and produce something of value in this world. It takes effort and energy, including doing things you don’t want to do when you don’t feel like doing them. It takes becoming a person of value, someone who produces outcomes others value enough to trade other things of value in order to obtain those outcomes. The suffering here is not only less than its opposite, but it also provides positive outcomes as a reward. The delayed-gratification while delayed, does show up eventually.
Because of the way human beings develop, we don’t like to be responsible for our mistakes, our digressions, and our failures. As children, we lie about the missing cookies or the broken lamp. We make excuses as to why we fail the math exam. Much of what shows up in all forms of media provides a narrative that other people are to blame for your state. Believing that you are completely and entirely responsible for every aspect of your life is a difficult position to hold at best, and suffering at worst. However, the fact that you are responsible also comes with the benefit of being empowered to change what you want (or need) to change. That empowerment, when acted on, allows for the changes that improve your life wherever you decide to place your focus.
Accepting reality isn’t easy, especially if you are an idealist. Even though life continues to improve for most of Earth’s population, there are still so many things that could use improvement—including too much unnecessary suffering. The choice to accept reality and to refuse to believe you are entitled to have things the way you want them is difficult. It is, however, the most realistic and fairest view of how things are better, but not good enough. Accepting reality opens the opportunity to make a difference and improve things when and where you can. Maybe you can’t eradicate malaria or polio, but you can help someone, and you can make a difference.
Humans are easily tempted. They are tempted by food, drink, entertainment, distractions, and pleasure. Trading pleasure for meaning, purpose, and character means walking away from temptations of pleasure. As difficult as it is to push temptations away, that small suffering is nothing compared to the longer term—and much greater—suffering that follows consistently poor decisions.
These are positive choices you can make to deal with difficulties and suffering.
Life is full of difficult things and suffering. You can make positive choices about how you suffer and move towards a better life (even if not an easy one, and even if it is one where there are occasionally events that cause you great suffering). You might also make negative choices that seem to alleviate your suffering or discomfort, allowing you to avoid difficulties and discomfort now, only to suffer much more—and with much more significant consequences in the future.
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Filed under: Psychology