The Importance of Suffering

Why is it important to suffer?

There seems to be an unspoken assumption within today’s society, that the ultimate goal in life, is to achieve maximum happiness, and this is seen as ‘normal’. People often plan the future, with ones happiness in mind, one hopes to have good experiences and good times. We live in a culture awash in talk about happiness. In a three-month period in 2013, more than 1,000 books were released on Amazon on the subject of happiness. Is it any wonder that we think this is what we should be aiming for in life? After all, we all like being happy, and one could argue what’s wrong with wanting this?

An interesting point is that people will often recall past memories that include difficulties and suffering: not only times of happiness. It is often ordeals that involve suffering that seem most significant. People may aim for happiness but feel shaped through suffering.

I’m not suggesting that we should all stop wanting to be happy, or stop doing things that inspire us, rather we should at least acknowledge that suffering is part of life. Suffering is an important part of life, it is through suffering that we grow and learn as human beings. In today’s society in can be easy to get caught up in the fast pace of living, there seems to be urgency about life. People want answers quickly and in an instant. Today’s technology allows us to be in constant contact with each other, which can take one away from reflecting and thinking. Unlike happiness, suffering takes you on a different path; it takes you deeper into yourself. Suffering can put us in touch with parts of ourselves that we didn’t know existed. Allowing oneself to endure suffering can take one beneath the routines of life, people often find out they are not who they believed themselves to be. Grief and agony can smash through the floor of one’s personality, unveiling another area.

In 2011 a staggering 47 million prescriptions for anti-depressants were dispensed to the British public. Normal human emotions such as grief for a loved one are now being dealt with by medicalization, as if we shouldn’t grieve. I often hear people say that they think they should be over it by now. People often feel they shouldn’t take time to get over painful experiences, but as people, we need time to heal and come through our suffering, suffering is an important function of what it means to be human.

Suffering can give people a more authentic sense of their own limitations, helping them to understand what they can and cannot control. Instead of perhaps trying to tell ones self to stop feeling pain, or to stop missing the one who has died, or gone, they can surrender to such emotions. When people plunge into these deeper regions, they are forced to accept the fact they cannot determine what goes on there. And when moments of relief do come it is not clear where the relief comes from. The healing process, too, feels as though it is a natural process beyond individual control.

People cannot determine the course of their pain but they can choose how to respond to it. They may not be masters of the situation, but neither are they helpless. Given the chance to be heard, people often feel a moral responsibility to respond to their pain. It is our human right.

Suffering alone and in silence can seem to much to bear, the experience of talking to someone and being heard can dramatically change how one feels. People are often afraid to admit that they feel vulnerable or ashamed. We all experience emotions like these at different times in our lives; no one is immune from suffering. Recovering from suffering is not like recovering from a disease. Many people don’t come out healed; they come out different. Instead of recoiling from the sorts of loving commitments that almost always involve suffering, they throw themselves more deeply into them.


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