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6 reasons why suffering is so important

There is a misconception in our society about suffering:

That suffering is something to be overcome, something we must fully remove from our lives.

But the reality about suffering is:

The best thing you can do is learn how to cope with it.

Suffering is normal. It is something that inevitably happens periodically in our lives.

The sooner you realize that it is not personal, or deliberately brought upon you by the world, the sooner you’ll learn how to use it to your advantage.

If you let your suffering consume you, it will consume your whole life.

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However, if you choose to use your suffering to fuel your life for the better, the more fulfilling it will be.

Here are six reasons why suffering is normal and even necessary for a life well-lived:

1. Suffering allows you to feel

why suffering is normal

The truth is:

Suffering is inevitable.

It is the price of being human, of our unique ability to feel.

With love comes heartbreak, with joy comes sorrow, with elation, comes pain.

That’s simply the way life works.

And this is where people get it wrong.

Many people believe that suffering is “avoidable”—that when you put your walls up, you become invincible to pain.

Ironically, that avoidance becomes self-sustained suffering.

When you run away from love, rejection, and challenges, you also push away life’s most meaningful offerings—relationships, connection, and meaning.

Trying to not “feel” things makes you push people away. Worse, it makes you treat people like objects.

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The price?

Loneliness, emptiness, rejection, despair.

The reality is, you can’t selectively choose which emotions to feel. You feel it all.

Your emotions are like the ocean, they come and go—the waves are not permanent. Anger, pain, and disappointment come, but they are only temporary, even necessary, parts of the human experience.

When you close yourself to suffering, you also close yourself to the beauty of life.

2. Suffering makes you grow

“Pain is necessary, but suffering is optional.”

Mindset is everything.

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I’m not saying that you should always be positive—that’s counterproductive and won’t make the situation magically disappear.

But having toxic positivity is different from having a growth mindset.

Using your suffering for self-development is a productive self toward personal growth.

This is what psychologists call “post-traumatic growth.”

According to psychologists Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun, who interviewed people who suffered traumatic life events including grief or serious illness, dealing with trauma sets a powerful spur for personal development.

Tedeschi explains:

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“People develop new understandings of themselves, the world they live in, how to relate to other people, the kind of future they might have and a better understanding of how to live life.”

When you experience psychological suffering, you develop resilience.

But more importantly, pain puts everything in perspective.

Suddenly, you realize what really matters. And that realization pushes you to find meaning and purpose in life, allowing you to make decisions that contribute to your personal growth.

3. Suffering teaches you gratitude

why suffering is normal

Nothing else can make you appreciate life more than suffering.

When you’re starving, you can’t appreciate a loaf of bread more. When you’re not sure of waking up for another day, you learn to live in the moment.

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It is only when you’ve suffered through the greatest ordeals that you become extremely grateful for the things you once took for granted.

These lessons are incredibly invaluable because they change how you think and feel in the future.

Why?

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You would no longer take anything for granted because you know how it felt to lose something.

When we are prosperous, we take everything for granted and start believing that we are invulnerable to suffering.

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However, in times of uncertainty, we realize how powerless we truly are.

And it is when you realize how easily things can be taken away from you that you start to be truly grateful for them.

But remember:

Gratitude is a choice.

Some people choose to wallow in their pain instead, people who think the world owes them everything. When these people suffer, they choose bitterness instead of gratitude.

Instead of being like them, use your gratitude to cope with the crisis.

In fact, you can consciously cultivate an attitude for gratitude, which you can use as a “psychological cushion” in times of suffering.

4. Suffering is part of any meaningful endeavor

I’m not saying that we should always suffer. Constant suffering is not normal and is likely a sign of something unhealthy in your life.

However, suffering tends to be a part of the areas of our lives that are worthwhile. 

Suffering is a part of growing up, of relationships, being parents, our careers, etc.

Every good relationship has periods of struggles and doubts. Every step of raising children involves uncertainty and challenges. Our career paths feel like a neverending uphill battle.

It’s the way life works. As I said, it’s inevitable.

You’re suffering because you are emotionally invested in these tasks. They mean something to you. You want to succeed.

Suffering is a sign of growth and renewal. It doesn’t have to be a “bad” thing. You only suffer badly when you choose to suffer badly.

But if you choose to accept it as a part of growing up, you’ll be more resilient against it.

5. You suffer not because you are “unworthy”

why suffering is normal

Here’s another myth that society has imposed on us:

We believe that we suffer because we deserve it.

Society is unkind when it comes to any expression of “negative” emotions.

We need to be “positive” all the time. Showing any sign of vulnerability and suffering is a sign of weakness.

This toxic mentality makes us believe that our suffering is something we asked for.

But that’s simply not true.

Suffering is normal. Fragility is part of being human. These things complete human experience.

Suffering does not make you especially unworthy because we all suffer. No matter how rich, beautiful, or successful someone is, they suffer, too.

The more you believe you are unworthy of life, the more you actually suffer.

Holding onto this mentality stops you from taking on the challenges and decisions that would contribute to your growth.

In the end, you’re only making yourself the enemy.

6. Suffering can lead the way to profound happiness

“Because human consciousness must involve both pleasure and pain, to strive for pleasure to the exclusion of pain is, in effect, to strive for the loss of consciousness.”

– Alan Watts

We often believe that suffering and happiness are two different and separate things.

But that’s not always the case.

In fact, the most profound feelings of happiness and triumph often come during suffering.

How so?

why suffering is normal

Precisely because it is painful.

Pain and pleasure are both instigators of consciousness. You cannot achieve consciousness with only pleasure and without pain. And so it is vice versa.

Living life in the middle—by constantly avoiding pain—will not lead you to the path of higher consciousness.

Life doesn’t have to be lived in extremes—extreme highs and extreme lows—that’s true. But if you want to open yourself up to those few profound moments of elation, you also need to allow yourself to suffer.

The greatest men and women, the likes of Mother Theresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, experienced unimaginable suffering only to become the most influential figures in the world.

Perhaps that will help put things in perspective.

***Do you want to be a stronger person? Do you want to stare down your challenges and overcome any obstacles? If so, check out our eBook: The Art of Resilience: A Practical Guide to Mental Toughness.

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Notable replies

  1. I totally agree with this article. The hugest suffering in my life eventually let to the greatest spiritual growth. I say eventually because it was a long learning process. My daughter was murdered 9 years ago. The pain was understandably immense. I didn’t grow from it, however for 5 years because I kept trying to push the pain away. At the 5 year mark I imploded- after 24 years of sobriety from alcohol, I drank. Only after the huge pain of uncontrollable drinking and the consequences that brought did I finally surrender, allow the pain to flow through me and the spiritual healing began. The process was hard but the results have been vast and life changing. Now I dedicate my life to helping others. And the pain is gone.

  2. This has to be THE most stupid, self deception story I have read since elementary religion class.
    The fact that you can grow from suffering is astounding.
    My wife and I never even understood what REAL suffering was until our son’s losing battle with sarcoma was.
    I suppose Jeffrey is still growing after his year long losing battle???
    Grow? Damn it, we struggle these last decades of our lives with a pain off loss nobody should ever feel…except for the fantastically uncaring plan designer and “life” process we are washed about in.
    Stupid and almost kindergarten level religiously stupid at that.

  3. @Intuitive_karen thanks for sharing your very personal experience. I can’t even begin to imagine the pain you must have gone through. I’m happy to know that you have managed to find a way to find meaning from helping others.

    @paulpellico I’m really sorry to hear that your lost your son. I also appreciate you took the time to share a personal response here to the article.

    I think the author is suggesting that there is always a choice with how to understand our own personal suffering. However, everyone’s experience is unique. It’s difficult when writing for a large audience to try to encapsulate everyone’s experience.

    I’d be interested in your feedback on a related article I wrote recently (see the comments to the article here):

    Do you find the message makes sense or is similarly missing the point?

  4. That is my point.
    To write a feature such as this one is what is wrong with each generation, and especially the newest in America. How often I hear The Sky Is Falling, the Earth is finished,. These are the worst of times.
    Oh, hell…this ain’t nuthin, kids! It has gotten and will get a hellava lot worse!
    Being spoiled living the best possible lives available today can make generations of fools.

    And to suffering. To speak of suffering without really KNOWING suffering is nothin but wrong. Real suffering is not just a learning experience, it is a life destroying experience. When you really, REALLY know sadness or suffering, then you become understanding of those who want to end their lives.
    There is pain in truth.
    I suppose one should find a way to be happy knowing the truth.
    But how? How does one learn to pan back from one’s world only to see the BIG PICTURE and find chaos, randomness and absolutely no purpose other than being a more complicated weed trying to outspread the other weeds?
    No, suffering is NOT a growth hormone.

    The best thing I can offer as advice to those suffering the loss of a loved one is…embrace it. Don’t run.
    I wear my pain and memories of Jeffrey like a warm blanket and it keeps me warm.
    Sleep more. Take your nap. Clear the mechanism by meditation. Just have and see your “moment”. Keep looking and awaken…and excepting your fate.

  5. I think what you recommend here closely mirrors the suggestions in the article above. Rather than this article being an indicate of “what is wrong with each generation”, surely it would be better to see that it’s commendable to adopt such a perspective and start a conversation about it?

    In modern day culture, there is a concept many people share to try and avoid suffering. To follow one’s highest joy and run away from those things that cause you pain.

    As you say, no! There’s an alternative to “embrace it”, to “wear pain and memories like a warm blanket”.

    Surely we would have a better discussion by leaving considerate comments about the content shared rather than the author’s character. See my recent post on the art of disagreeing and how to advance such conversations.

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Written by Genefe Navilon

Genefe Navilon is a writer, poet, and blogger. She graduated with a degree in Mass Communications at the University of San Jose Recoletos. Her poetry blog, Letters To The Sea, currently has 18,000 followers. Her work has been published in different websites and poetry book anthologies. She divides her time between traveling, writing, and working on her debut poetry book.

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