A dictionary would define suffering as the state of undergoing pain, distress, hardship, damage, or loss. But, this definition does not truly capture the feeling of suffering. Suffering is not the physical pain felt in the present moment; to suffer is a state of the mind, a mental attachment to a particular experience or situation. On a psychological level, the experience of suffering can be conscious or unconscious.
Think of yourself as a computer; you are operating based on the data written in your “software”; information based your set of experiences. This means that the family you grew up in, where you lived, the people you meet, all matter. Every aspect of your experience makes an impression on you, whether you are consciously aware or not. The positive or negative energy of our surroundings impacts us through this process.
Common Example of Suffering
Looking at the case of insomnia, Insomnia only exists because the insomniac is bothered by not being able to sleep. Most people experience sleeplessness 1-2x per month at minimum, but the person who is not bothered by it does not suffer from insomnia. Research claims no cure for insomnia. But, could it be that suffering from insomnia creates more insomnia? And by not being bothered by it on those first 1-2 nights per month might prevent further insomnia-tic events.
Purpose and Values
We are all born with, more or less, the same stats. At birth, we have nothing: no skills, no knowledge; a pile of skin and bones that pees and poops itself relying entirely on others for survival. Consider the magnificence of what you have become from that time. From inept, we learn to walk, talk, act, think, create, etc. with our mind being the only limit.
Humans Desire Purpose Worth The Suffering
Humans need a task for satisfaction and to give them purpose. Every individual will find a different level of comfort from any assigned work. Some people like to pick up trash, some who enjoy designing, whatever the heart desires. Whether you love what you do or not, it is possible to weigh the tradeoff between the benefit and the suffering. Ironically, this balance is inversely proportionate. The more you love what you the do, the less you suffer while being more willing to endure. As individuals, we need to question the reasons why we suffer and ensure it is for a valid purpose.
Some would say, well, if you enjoy what you do, how is it that you suffer? Even a master of his or her craft started out incapable. Going from terrible to greatest takes serious dedication regardless of the task. Suffering, in this case, is the grinding work, the endless hour of following processes and making progress. This includes the drive to be great, the wanting to believe in whom you’ve become, the willingness to push even when no one is watching.
In life, we have a choice as to where we place our efforts. All too often, we slave away chasing someone else’s dream or trying to live up to other’s expectations. Once you consume all of your energy on the meaningless, there is nothing left to work with for your purpose. The key is only to put effort into things with a purpose. Give less energy to other’s interest and more to your own. Suffering is only worth it if you want the benefit for said suffering.
Personal Values For Decision Making
The metrics by which you measure your actions are known as personal values. Humans are oddly attracted to negativity. Even the most positive individual gets sucked in under negative environments. If you find yourself always surrounded by complainers, you notice that you begin to complain more frequently. Defining a set of values can help you be more aware when this happens, but also assists in better decision making. When you have a set of values, it drives you to act in a positive way that leads to personal development.
In any given situation, your value system can be used to guide you in the direction, which most benefits you. If you have the right values, it helps you quickly navigate through failures while learning lessons to utilize in the future. However, focusing on the wrong values will disrupt your life and increase your suffering.
When defining personal values, it is essential to consider its importance to you and not others. The others around you likely do not have the same goals and talents as you, so their opinion of what is important should be of no concern. The first step is to define periods when you were: happy, proud of yourself, and fulfilled/satisfied.
- Periods of Happiness:
- Why was I happy?
- What other factors contributed to my happiness? People, things, situations?
- Periods of Pride:
- Why was I proud?
- What other factors contributed to my pride?
- Did others around me share my pride? Who were those people?
- Periods of Fulfillment/Satisfaction:
- What desire or need was fulfilled/satisfied?
- What other factors contributed to my fulfillment/satisfaction?
- How did this experience give my life meaning?
Once you have defined the above, consider why each of these experiences is important. From here you should be able to begin establishing your values. See the word cloud below for ideas on common personal value traits.
TIP: Good values to define for yourself are things you have control over. Poor values are things you do not have control over.
Take Responsibility For Your Actions
Every decision you make creates a series of resulting consequences, good, bad, and neutral. At any moment, analyzing our situation, it is easy to believe any adverse outcomes on others. Humans are addicted to, both, moral superiority and victimhood, including self-victimization. Taking responsibility for your actions is essential in finding happiness. Every experience is needed and must be used to improve your life.
A foundation is built brick by brick, whether it is a house or a human. Harness the ability to adapt to whatever the universe throws at you. Much of what happens is out of your control, but you can always control how you respond to it.
Being “Right” Is An Illusion
More and more in today’s political climate, I see people addicted to moral superiority, myself included. Our ego convinces our brain that we have the responsibility to shame others who do not agree with our beliefs. Generally speaking, there is no absolute “right” or “wrong,” just a variety of possibilities. This concept applies to so much more than politics; honestly, any debate or argument could apply. Though, to grow and learn, we must reject the idea that we know anything for sure.
The logical mind creates suffering. When we are stuck in our intellect process (thoughts, opinions, and understandings of things), we suffer. The suffering caused by valuing to keep those same thoughts, opinions, and understanding rather than questioning them. Reject the idea that you know anything for sure; Certainty stifles growth.
A Buddha is “One who is above his intellect, one who is no longer a part of his mind.”
Often enough, we ask ourselves, “What is the least I can do to achieve _____?” In reality, we should be asking ourselves, “What is the most I can bear to achieve ______?” There is value in knowing what you are willing to go through to reach your goals and objectives. As time passes, our values grow and shift. Due to this, it is important to question and challenge your values and beliefs constantly. As previously mentioned, being “right” is an illusion and certainty stifles growth; so, we can never allow our beliefs and values to be above this rule.
Questioning your values and beliefs repeatedly keeps you level thus allowing you to see past your current understandings. The way you do something may not always be the best way; you should seek to achieve any way to improve or simplify your life. Accepting the world around you at face value does not initiate change or improvement. Just because something is just the way, it has always been does not mean it cannot be better. Apply this to personal philosophies, self-held beliefs of who you are and should be as a person, religious beliefs, and political beliefs to see if they stand up to your test. As time passes, our needs vary maybe what you once believed no longer serve you. Keep in mind, no aspect of life exists in complete absolutes that works for everyone.
Practice Saying “No”
We all have the same 24 hours in our day and sleep is a non-negotiable requirement to live. Whether you run a corporation or a household or punch a clock, each day has the same time limit. In any given period, there is only so much time, energy, and money that is available for you to give. When we apply our time, money, or energy (T.M.E) to tasks or events that do not serve us we steal T.M.E. from what does matter and help us.
The practice of saying “No” relates to the guilty conscience effect many of us suffer from regularly. We agree to events, obligations, tasks, and even relationships then live with regret over them. Politeness and honesty are far more valuable traits than showing up unenthusiastic, so, in reality, we are doing others a favor when we politely decline their requests. In any case, consider how accepting a request would affect your time, money, energy, and your happiness. If you do not have the time, money, or energy and it does not bring you joy, why would you say anything other than “No.” Indeed, there will be things you do not enjoy that you will have to attend to, but eliminating the non-essential annoyances will free up your time, money, and energy.
Mental De-Cluttering and Awareness
Often, we de-clutter (or attempt to) our homes, but do not realize that our minds are still full. Saying “No” is a significant first step in clearing our thoughts of the things that annoy and anger us. However, mental de-cluttering is absolutely an ongoing conscious effort. Busy lives take us out of the moment and into dwelling, depression, and worry.
The Practice Of Momento Mori
Momento Mori translates to “remember that you will die,” or the awareness that you are mortal and will die. Accepting that your time is limited allows you to focus on the present moment and become fully alive. You no longer seek pleasure over survival. The practice of meditating on your inevitable mortality is a tool allows you to live your life to the fullest. Momento Mori guides you to seek truth and overcome fears with urgency and perspective. Death gives life purpose, so time is not to be wasted on the unimportant, vain, and trivial.
Right Here, Right Now
I cannot stress enough the value of being present in the moment. As we just discussed, the future is not guaranteed so why spend the majority of your energy focused on it. With a good set of values and purpose to back, decisions should be made for the right now. Structured appropriately you may see continued benefits of your current actions. Dwelling on the past and worrying about the future cause you to miss the now. The only moment you have is the present one, so make the most of it and exist in it.
Be Free To Choose
We are born into this life without the freedom to choose where we live, whom we know or are related to, what we learn, etc. Over time, this changes, and we gain the ability to control a good deal of our circumstances. What existed in your past may no longer have a presence in your life. Be free to choose what you care about personally. The past does not have to define you; every day is a new chance to be the person you were meant to be.
Be aware of the changes in your life and whenever possible dictate those changes. Maybe your political or religious beliefs growing up no longer match your interests. Do not feel sorry for feeling a different way than others in your life. Think of your time, money, and energy again. If it does not serve you, it should be your option to opt-out.
Suffering Into Happiness
We believe we can know everything and have all the answers; when we neither are possible. When physicality is all you know, your quest for pleasure becomes paramount above all things. This creates a state of being only half-alive, a state where we can suffer. Turning suffering into happiness requires focus. Focus on your purpose, the tasks you enjoy most and bring you the most joy. But, also, focus on your values and always testing their validity in your current life.
As individuals, we have a choice in how we react to the world around us. We, also, have a choice in the actions we take each day. Taking the time to identify what is of value to you and what your purpose exactly is will enable the opportunity to go after relevant goals. Find what gets you going in life and apply your best efforts. Forgoing other’s expectations and taking responsibility for your actions is paramount to success in today’s society. We may not have the same goals, purposes, values, but that is what creates individuality and growth. Being presently aware and making conscious decisions with your best interests in mind can quickly develop into a societal impact. Strive to be your best self then lead by example.