mural of Nelson Mandela

Did You Know That Joy Does Not Exist without Suffering? 

It can seem somehow unfair that we must experience suffering as part of the process of experiencing joy. In fact it seems like an oxymoron until you examine some of the logic behind it, which is what I am going to invite you to do as you read through this blog.

In my last blog I invited you to learn about how fear can prevent us from experiencing joy, looking at the work of Brené Brown and information from The Book of Joy by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his Holiness the Dalai Lama as well as some information from the Bible that tells us we should “fear not.”

In addition to appreciating how fear can prevent us from experiencing joy, it can be very helpful to consider the nature of suffering and its connection to our joy. The Dalai Lama states that, “materialistic values cannot give us peace of mind. So we really need to focus on our inner values, our true humanity. Only this way can we have peace of mind—more peace in our world.….As one of the 7 billion human beings, I believe everyone has the responsibility to develop a happier world. We need, ultimately, to have a greater concern for others’ well-being. In other words, kindness or compassion, which is lacking now. We must pay more attention to our inner values. We must look inside.”

Google defines a value as, “a person’s principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life.”

A classic book that studies the nature values and the impact they have on people’s lives is “Values Clarification” by Simon , Howe and Kirschenbaum. Another excellent resource is The Family Virtues Guide by Linda Kavelin Popov that encourages readers to empower adults and children in diverse cultures around the world to live by their highest values. They suggest that families embrace the 52 virtues so they can live by those high values. Some include:

  • Caring
  • Compassion
  • Excellence
  • Generosity
  • Helpfulness
  • Humility
  • Justice
  • Kindness
  • Love
  • Modesty
  • Respect
  • Self-discipline
  • Tact
  • Tolerance
  • Trust
  • Unit

I recommend that you pause to reflect on what your inner values are and how they are manifested in your life. Remember that when you believe in a certain value, it is not the same as how you manifest that value in your attitudes, beliefs and behaviors.

Let’s shift gears now to look at the subject of suffering. Google states that, “Human suffering is multifaceted, encompassing physical, emotional, and existential dimensions. It is an intrinsic part of the human experience, prompting reflection on life’s meaning and our shared vulnerability.”

The Bible shares a few things about suffering. James 1:2-4 states: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

The book of Job in the Old Testament describes many ways Job suffered, including the death of his 10 children. Through it all he somehow maintained his faith and reliance on God.

In their chapter entitled “Nothing Beautiful Comes without Suffering,” the Dalai Lama says: “One of the good things is realizing that you are not a solitary cell. You are a part of a wonderful community. That’s helped very greatly. As we are saying, if you are setting out to be joyful you are not going to end up being joyful. You are going to find yourself turned in on yourself. It’s like a flower. You open, you blossom, really because of other people. And I think some suffering, maybe even intense suffering, is a necessary ingredient for life, certainly for developing compassion.”

He goes on to describe the experience of Nelson Mandela, the first president of South Africa who was unjustly jailed for 27 years and was released in 1990. According to the BBC news website “His charisma, self-deprecating sense of humor and lack of bitterness over his harsh treatment, as well as his amazing life story, partly explain his extraordinary global appeal.”

I think we can conclude that joy often involves suffering and is found in not allowing that suffering to destroy us. Instead, we find joy in giving to others, and being compassionate and caring, in contributing to the well-being of our family, friends and community. By knowing that joy often involves suffering, we can experience the kind of acceptance for the natural nature of that suffering that is part of the road we must take if we are to experience joy.

Invitation for Reflection

  1. What thoughts, feelings, sensations, beliefs, images and/or memories popped up for you as you considered the information in this blog?
  2. Can you recall times in your life when you experienced suffering? What were the circumstances that caused your suffering? Did that suffering somehow contribute to your life in a positive way?
  3. Have you ever created a list of the values that guide you in life? If not, is it something you might want to explore now?
  4. Does this information inspire you to become clearer and more focused on your values, and on the nature of suffering as necessary for gaining joy? What specifically can you do in your own life to embrace these principles?

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