Suffering Will Make You Better: Why Pain Can Be Good For The Soul

by Nicole Caldwell
"A smooth sea never made a skillful sailor." - English proverb

We go out of our way to avoid hurt, dodge danger and prevent hardships. Yet, it is the triumph over frailties or challenges that define us as strong, resilient, mature and experienced.

Contrary to popular belief, it appears a little suffering may be good for us. It forces us to solve problems creatively, think differently and explore our own vulnerabilities.

What if Sojourner Truth stayed put, instead of escaping slavery with her infant daughter? What if Bill Gates gave up when his first business failed? What if Rosa Parks had chosen a different seat? What if Bethany Hamilton stopped surfing after she lost her arm in a shark attack?

Jungian James Hollis called suffering a prerequisite for maturation. He says, without it, we have no hope but to stay “unconscious, infantile and dependent.”

Could it be that redefining that which is difficult, unpleasant, traumatic or bitter can turn those experiences into potential for greatness?

In "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan," a Starfleet Academy training exercise called the Kobayashi Maru tests the gumption and poise of cadets when faced with a no-win scenario.

In this simulation exercise, a cadet in command of the USS Enterprise receives a distress signal stating that civilian freighter Kobayashi Maru has hit a gravitic mine in the Klingon Neutral Zone and is losing power.

Cadets must choose to attempt a rescue of the Kobayashi Maru or abandon it, as the test by design offers no way to rescue those aboard the freighter and get out of the neutral zone without inciting a fatal battle with Klingon ships.

Before undertaking the exercise for a third time after failing twice, cadet James T. Kirk manages to reprogram the simulator so it's possible to rescue the Kobayashi Maru safely.

He didn’t give up or turn tail; he effectively changed the rules of the game to create a different outcome rather than play within the confines of an unworkable system.

Researchers have found that life problems force us to think differently and stay intellectually nimble.

Finding a new route when a subway line is down, climbing out from under a mountain of debt, figuring out how to get over an ex — all of these little puzzles are miniature mental marathons.

So, challenges sharpen our wit. Losses teach us compassion.

A 2013 survey of 15,000 people found those who had gone through hardships were happier overall and enjoyed life more.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia and Barcelona School of Management concluded that going through something difficult better equips a person to relish the little joys of the everyday.

Examples of underdogs having their day or people using hardships as chances to grow can be found everywhere, from the pages of literature to history itself.

Ill-equipped rebels take on — and beat — the Empire in "Star Wars." Peter Parker faces the side effects of an insect bite by becoming Spiderman. The tortoise beats the hare. So on and so forth.

In 2011, Irish golfer Rory McIlroy was winning the Masters in Augusta, Georgia.

Most professional players go their whole lives without winning any round in the majors, but McIlroy, at just 21 years old and without any prior victories, was enjoying a safe lead on the final day.

Then, McIlroy choked. He shot a triple-bogey on hole 10 and proceeded to shoot the worst day of golf in his four-year career. He tied for 15th place and was all but laughed off the course.

Because McIlroy came so close and lost so dramatically, most people thought he'd never win a Major. After the devastating loss, the young golfer was forced to interview for the public media.

Reflecting on his worst day in his professional career, McIlroy interestingly chose to quote Muhammad Ali, who said, "It's repetition of affirmations that leads to belief — and once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen."

Three months later, McIlroy won the US Open. But, he did more than win: He shattered almost every record associated with that tournament.

Would McIlroy have been so emboldened to win if he hadn’t lost? Would Rocky Balboa have been such a galvanizing character if he hadn’t been the underdog?

Would Chamberlain have ordered the bayonet charge at Little Round Top during the Battle of Gettysburg if his men hadn’t been out of ammunition, out of water, exhausted and outnumbered?

What about you? Think of every risk you’ve taken in your life — every time you’ve howled at the moon, jumped from the hamster wheel and tried something new.

What emboldened you to take that step? What if you hadn’t stuck your neck out, asked the girl to dance or applied for that dream job?

For each of us feeling unfulfilled, tired, worn down, defeated: OPEN YOUR EYES. It is the negative that informs the positive.

There is a whole world out there that needs exploring, loving, creative ways to tackle some very big issues.

There is a whole universe of possibility. Life is too short to settle and too precious to waste. It’s too wild for monotony.

So, you've got demons; all you've got to do is make them dance.