The Only Pain Worth Suffering For Is The Kind That Makes You Stronger

by Paul Hudson

Frank Underwood, from "House of Cards," famously said:

There are two kinds of pain: the sort of pain that makes you strong, or useless pain; the sort of pain that’s only suffering. I have no patience for useless things.

Sometimes it feels like regardless of how many happy and wonderful moments we have in our lives, the pain colors most of the picture.

Pain and the avoidance of pain are what guide most of the decisions we make in our day-to-day. The rest is governed by our wants, which are often associated with needing, being refused, failing -- being turned away.

You can’t avoid pain. No matter what you do in life -- no matter your circumstances or the decisions you make -- you can’t avoid pain indefinitely. It's unavoidable and necessary: You need it because, without it, you wouldn’t (and couldn’t) survive.

All living things feel pain to some extent. How they feel or experience pain differs greatly from the way human beings experience it -- especially when we’re talking about plants and microorganisms.

Living beings may not feel pain, but it doesn’t mean they don’t react to stimuli that would theoretically cause pain in a mammal, for example.

We experience pain because we're large creatures requiring a large and complex “danger notification system” -- it takes more time and energy to convince us we’re in danger. Both physical pain and emotional pain cause us to react and adapt with great speed.

It’s an incredibly efficient system -- at least the physical part of the equation. The other half… Not so much. The complex emotions we experience seem less like evolutionary advantages and more like mistakes that just stuck because there was no reason to evolve beyond them.

Then again, the human brain would not be what it is were it not for the emotions we feel. We'd never think about a fraction of the things we think about and imagine today.

We'd have no motivation to do anything, to accomplish anything, to create anything. Without emotional pain, there would be no ego -- and without egos, human beings wouldn’t be human beings.

The complexity of emotional pain we’re capable of experiencing is what makes us human. So why do we think we need to avoid it?

Sure, we feel bad when we’re sad, heartbroken, lonely, frustrated, stressed and exhausted and on the verge of giving up. It feels bad, but why is it objectively bad?

Even physical pain can't be objectively bad; it warns us of imminent danger. Without feeling physical pain, we’d fall apart in our sleep as we tossed and turned. Without emotional pain, we’d all be worse than sociopaths.

We need emotional pain in order to appreciate the essence of life. And just as important, we need it in order to live our lives with purpose.

Although, the purpose should equally be an emotional as well as rational journey since our emotions make achieving our dreams possible. Without them, we wouldn’t find the motivation.

We'd all be better off accepting that all emotions, pleasant and painful, serve a purpose. Usually, pleasure and pain help improve our lives. Sometimes, however, the opposite is true. Sometimes pleasure and pain are entirely useless.

When our emotions serve no purpose, they become superfluous. At such moments, we’re simply allowing ourselves to be emotional because we, for whatever misguided reason, feel it will somehow help us, somehow make us feel… better?

Too much of any good thing turns it into a bad thing. Too much pleasure and it loses its luster. Too much useless, unnecessary pain and you’re just hurting yourself on purpose.

Even if you aren’t intentionally inflicting emotional pain on yourself, by refusing to understand and rationalize why feeling pain is irrational, you’re ensuring the continuance of your suffering. You’re being a sadomasochist and then lying to yourself about it.

You’ll certainly experience plenty of painful moments in life, so there’s no rational reason to allow more pain into it -- at least, not pain both useless and avoidable.

Pain teaches us lessons, helps us understand what is important, and what we want out of life. Pain helps us understand ourselves better.

Everybody experiences a combination of useful and useless pain. At times, our initial emotional response is way off the mark. It’s the information we know, and what we imagine the rest of the missing information to be, that triggers an emotional response.

Would it not make more sense first to get our hands on the missing information before we decide how we ought to feel? We might not have complete control of our emotions, but we have more control than we think.

Our emotions are triggered by our thoughts, and we have a great amount of control over our thoughts -- some less than others. And with enough practice, we can get a complete grip on our version of reality.

After you confirm the pain you feel is justified, look for the lesson hiding in between. There's always a lesson when it comes to useful pain; it’s what makes it useful.

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