Finding meaning in suffering

These last month I’ve been thinking about the meaning of suffering. Everyone struggles at some point in their lives. Suffering is a reality that all of us can notice — even if we do not accept or embrace it. But, why suffer? Why does suffering seems like an everyday reality that we are always facing and cannot figure out?

I have a few guesses. Nowadays, happiness is linked to pleasure, and, consequently, suffering is viewed as another word for evil. Our hedonist, individualistic and narcissist culture rejected the pain, sacrifice, and suffering because, at first sight, they can’t bring us pleasure. If pleasure is seen as “good” and something that gives us happiness, suffering only can be seen as “bad”, giving us unhappiness. For me, there is a misunderstanding of concepts. Of course, happiness is something good. Happiness is linked to goodness, and we can see it in all the classical literature. From the stories of princesses up to “heroes” like Don Quixote, Hercules, Frodo Baggins, or Ivanhoe, we always see the “good” person being rewarded for their goodness with happiness. But we also see a lot of struggle, pain, and suffering all over the stories, which teach us that redemption only comes after suffering.

Suffering is the necessary “blows to hack away what is superfluous from the huge block of marble”. When you suffer, you start seeing life in a different form. I can say that pain turns us into more human beings, more comprehensive, more empathetic to others, and more mature. If life would be only good moments, how could we differentiate happiness from sorrow, considering we do not know the second one? I found out suffering is kind of the shadows and dark brushstrokes of a big and beautiful painting. They highlight and bring more beauty to the colorful inks.

I remember a quote I saw once, from the South Korean artist Yun Hyong Keun: “true sorrow is connected to true beauty”. That reminds me of another quote, from the book “The Idiot”, by Dostoevsky: “Beauty will save the world”. If beauty is set apart from goodness and truth, it becomes an idol. When we, more than accept, embrace our suffering and let the pain change us and make us stronger, then we’ll find redemption. And happiness.

Disclaimer: when your suffering comes along with suicide ideation or thoughts, please, go for help through professional mental health support (In Brazil, call 188 / In the US, call 911).

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Leticia Barbano

Leticia Barbano

I’m not cool and don’t write cool things. Don’t get your hopes up :)