There is an old adage that reads: “Pain in life is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” Unfortunately, we don’t always live by this adage. Instead, we live in a belief that suffering is unavoidable. I will claim that this belief is not actually “True.” Rather, we are engaging in something that I will call “Learned Suffering” – meaning that we suffer because, as a culture, we simply have a bad habit of suffering. We’ve learned to do this for our entire lives, and our culture and the media encourages it.
Allow me to clarify: There are certainly painful experiences and emotions that occur in life as a result of our circumstances, such as death and loss. But suffering is distinct from pain. Suffering is a result of the stories and beliefs that we make up about our pain.
- When all of the important things in our lives are going well and nothing bad is happening, we often choose to suffer anyway instead of rejoicing and enjoying the moment. We spend our time waiting for the other shoe to fall, making up a story that sooner or later, something will go wrong.
- Also, when the important things are taken care of, we tend to sweat the small stuff. We are constantly looking to find something small that is “the matter.” And you know what? When we look for it, we always find it! This causes tremendous unrest in our relationships because we nitpick about the small things that aren’t ideal instead of being grateful for the good things.
- When something painful is happening, we increase our suffering by making up stories about our pain. “I shouldn’t feel this way.” “I’m devastated by my mother’s death because I wasn’t a good enough daughter when she was alive.” “My romantic relationship ended because there is something un-loveable about me.”
How to Intervene on Our Suffering:
- Be Present: Get present in the moment. Our stories about suffering usually take place in the past or the future. When we are truly present in the “now,” we are less likely to suffer.
- Acknowledge the Story: Begin to acknowledge that the story you are making up or the belief you have is merely that – a story, not “the Truth.”
- Shift Your Mood: The moods we live in affect the types of stories we make up. When you live in a mood of resentment or resignation, you will make up stories that have you suffer. If you shift the mood, the stories will shift too.
- Be An Offer: We often focus on all of the things that are missing from our lives and from our relationships. What if, instead of focusing on all the things you want that you aren’t getting, you focused on what type of offer you are to the world and to others? When we focus on being a true offer in the world, our suffering is decreased.