Suffering is our psychological resistance to what happens. Events may create physical pain, but they do not in themselves create suffering. Resistance creates suffering.
If your childhood was anything like mine, you grew up hearing fairy tales and absorbing lessons from them. Most of these children’s stories have a common beginning: “Once upon a time…” They also tend to have a common ending: “And they all lived happily ever after.”
While my childhood was far from ideal, there was one theme that was continually repeated: someday, things will be better. Here are some of the thoughts spawned by this notion.
When I graduate from school, life will great.
My marriage won’t be weighed down with problems like many I’ve seen.
When I get a job, everything will be perfect.
When I have children, I’ll be the ideal parent.
In short, I had the misguided belief that someday, when I’d achieved a certain goal or milestone, life would somehow become ideal; problems would cease to plague me and life would be wonderful.
Despite all my years and accomplishments, I can assure you that I still have problems on a daily basis. My life isn’t perfect and never will be.
But our expectations of a life of bliss actually undermine our happiness. When suffering comes, we’re often unprepared for it. If you believe marriage is all roses and no thorns, you’ll be disappointed and disillusioned every time you and your spouse disagree. If you expect parenting to be all fun and games, you’ll be shocked by the demands and challenges it brings. If you think friends will always be there when you want or need support, you’ll be hurt when you discover that most people put their own needs first. And if you think any job is perfect, you’ll never find a position that satisfies you.
Some 2,500 years ago, the Buddha came face to face with the fact that suffering is a way of life. Failing to accept that truth and glamorizing the future will only make your suffering worse. I’m one of the most optimistic people you’ll ever encounter. But I learned a long time ago that optimism needs to be tempered with realism.
Life has its ups and downs. The truth is, life is hard and suffering is all around us. I don’t advocate pessimism, but being overly optimistic and believing that bad things will never happen to you can only lead to frustration and distress.
The bigger the gap between reality and your expectations, the greater your disappointment will be. To improve your happiness, be prepared for suffering. Accept that life won’t always be fair and that misfortunes eventually happen to everyone. By being prepared, you’ll be better able to accept the curves life sends your way.
Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality.
c. 604 – c. 531 B.C.
Copyright © 2013 John Chancellor