The Joys of Suffering

The positivity movement has increased in momentum. Pictures, wall art, shopping bags, and desktop pictures share a similar message.

Stay positive.

Be happy.


Love and laughter.

All great advice.  But do these images and words really make us feel better?

Counterintuitively, these messages may be hurting us in ways we don’t quite understand.

As humans we endure a range of emotions every day.  It’s a part of the human experience.  To be human means we must feel emotions – good or bad.  No one can stay positive or happy all the time.  Seeing these positive messages everywhere wrongly implies that something is wrong with us when we are not in a “positive” state of mind.  Or worse, seeing these messages can invoke anger and anxiety within ourselves.  After all, who wants to be told to “Be happy” when we are in a crummy mood? 

Just let me be…

The truth is, I can’t possibly know what real happiness feels like unless I have felt real sorrow.  I can’t understand how good love can feel, unless I have had my heart broken.  I can’t feel deep joy in my accomplishments, unless have witnessed for myself the pains of failure.

A rainbow does not exists if half of its colors are missing - we also fail to be human if we hide from half of our emotions.

Should you purposely put yourself in a negative state to feel all of your emotions?

Absolutely not.

But don’t be ashamed to allow yourself to feel crummy, even if the picture on the wall tells you to “stay positive.”  See the emotion as what it is - temporary.  Like a wave in the ocean, all emotions come and go. 

What can you do with your negative emotions (pain)?

Use your pain to propel yourself to new heights. Pain is the best way to enhance your grit and resilience.

Early in my career I had a painful moment that to this day motivates me to do my best work.  A few months into a new job, I was asked to take on a new role.  I sat down in front of my new director and was informally interviewed.  After the interview the director said, “You don’t belong on this team because you don’t have the skill sets to succeed.” 

Point taken.  I was young, inexperienced, and now emotionally hurt.  I could have allowed the pain to make me a victim but doing this would only prove that the director was right. Instead, I used the pain as a driving force for my career.

I now know that the worst times in my life are also the most valuable.  It’s in the times of pain and suffering that defines who I am today.  I didn’t tell myself to “think positive” or “stay happy.” Instead, I converted my anger, sadness, and self-doubt into inspiration.

How can you cultivate the ability to use pain as positive energy?

Put your mind and body through grueling mental and physical training. Do things that you don’t want to do, to prove to yourself you can do it.  Endure some sort of physical or mental strain each day.  Here are some ideas for you:

·         Get up very early in the morning and do something productive.

·         Torture yourself in the gym.

·         Take ice cold showers during the winter time.

·         Complete a day of fasting.

·         Force yourself to write when you don’t want to write.

·         Force yourself to listen when you want to speak.

·         Stand in front of a big audience and deliver an adhoc speech.

·         Try to have a 5 minute conversation with a stranger.

·         Be the last person to look away in a staring contest

·         Sit in absolute silence for an hour.

There is no shortage of ways in which you can mimic emotional or physical pain and endure it.  Do this consistently enough and when the times comes when you inevitably hit another low point in your life, you can use your training to help you climb back to your next peak.

The positivity movement hints to us that suffering is bad. But you will find that the more you suffer, the more joy you will find when the suffering ends.