10 Dec You might have endured unbearable hardship in your life. the pain of loss, illness, or lack. But please don’t let those thoughts convince you that you’re supposed to suffer, that you don’t deserve to be happy… (MO GAWDAT)
Most of the everyday discomforts of adult life are not only transient but also useful. The pangs of hunger prompt you to eat. The crankiness of inadequate sleep pushes you to get to bed. The prick of a thorn makes you pull back your finger, and the pain of a sprained ankle prompts you to give it a rest so it can heal. Even serious physical pain exists as an important form of messaging between our nervous system and our environment. Without pain to help us navigate dangers, we would inadvertently do all sorts of things to hurt ourselves, and we’d never have survived.
But as it is, we hurt—we heal. You burn your finger, you put some ice on it, you’re good to go. Once the tissue starts to repair itself and the inflammation or irritation goes away, the pain has served its purpose. The brain no longer feels the need to protect the injured area, so it suppresses the signals, and good-bye pain. Which is why, barring a serious injury or a chronic condition, physical pain is generally not an impediment to happiness.
It may be less obvious, but everyday emotional pain is similar in that it also serves a survival function. Being left alone too long could be dangerous for a baby, so extended solitude becomes frightening to her and she cries to summon the caretaker. As adults, the painful feeling of isolation, also known as loneliness, signals that we may need to change our ways, to reach out more and try harder to engage. Painful feelings of anxiety can prompt us to seriously prepare for upcoming exams or presentations. Feelings of guilt or shame cause us to apologize and make amends, thereby restoring important social bonds.
When you experience emotional discomfort, you feel a little bruised for a few minutes, hours, or days, depending on the intensity of the experience. But once you stop thinking about it, the feeling of hurt goes away. Once time passes and memory fades, you can acknowledge and accept what you’ve experienced, extract whatever lesson you can from it, and move on. Once the pain is no longer needed, it naturally fades away.
But that’s not the case with suffering.
When we let it, emotional pain, even the most trivial kind, has the capacity to linger or resurface again and again, while our imaginations endlessly replay the reason for the pain. When we choose to let that happen, that’s when we overwrite our default for happiness and reset the preference for needless suffering.
The vividness of imagination also allows us to magnify the suffering, if we choose to, by adding our own simulated pain: “I’m an idiot for hurting my friend. I’m not good for anything. I deserve to be punished and suffer.” The incremental layer of internal dialogue only leads to deeper and longer suffering by brooding over the story until it makes us miserable. But make no mistake, the misery we feel then is not the product of the world around us—the event is already over while we continue to suffer. It’s the work of our own brains.
All the thinking in the world, until converted into action, has no impact on the reality of our lives. It does not change the events in any way. The only impact it has is inside us, in the form of needless suffering and sadness. Anticipating awful things in the future or ruminating about awful moments from the past is not the useful, instructive, and unavoidable experience of everyday pain. This prolonged extension of pain is a serious bug in our system.
The interesting thing is, just as we have the ability to engage in our suffering at will, we also have the ability to debug our pain systems if we put our minds to it. But we don’t always make that choice.
Imagine that you need a root canal and the dentist offers you either (a) the standard procedure with a few days of recovery or (b) a root canal with additional bonus days of extensive excruciating pain. Why on earth would you ever choose (b)?
Sad to say, each and every day, minions of people do just that: they effectively go for the root canal with extras. It all begins when you accept the thought passing through your head as absolute truth. The longer you hold on to this thought, the more you prolong the pain.
The day my wonderful son left, everything went dark. I felt I had earned the right to suffer for the rest of my life, that I was given no choice but to close my door and decay. I was, in reality, given two choices: (a) I could choose to suffer for the rest of my life and it would not bring Ali back, or (b) I could choose to feel the pain but, stop the miserable thoughts, do all that I could to honor him memory would still not bring Ali back -though it would make the world just a little bit easier to endure. Two choices. Which would you chose?
I choose (b).
Please don’t get me wrong. I miss Ali every minute of every day. I miss his smile and comforting hug at the times when I need them most. This pain is very real, and I expect it I don’t have incessant suffering thoughts in my brain to magnify it. I don’t curse life and act like a victim. I don’t feel cheated. I don’t feel hatred or anger toward the hospital or the doctor. and I don’t blame myself for driving him there. Such thoughts would serve no purpose. I choose not to suffer. It helps me put life in perspective and move positively forward, sending All my loving wishes and keeping a happy memory- of him alive.
Would you make that choice in the face of tough times? Assuming you could and that it’s possible, would you make the choice to stop your own suffering? I realize that you might have endured unbearable hardship in your life. the pain of loss, illness, or lack. But please don’t let those thoughts convince you that you’re supposed to suffer, that you don’t deserve to be happy.
Solve for Happy