Making Meaning From Misery

Making Meaning From Misery

The world is crying out in pain! People are suffering! Yet, for most of us, life goes on unchanged. Suffering is inevitable, but sometimes it pushes us to the limits of our tolerance. We can’t fully wrap our minds around the brutality of the middle east, the mass killing in Maine, or the destruction of Lahaina without feeling the primal scream of outrage welling up from within. Surely God didn’t intend suffering to be such a huge part of the human condition. In a world of such beauty and possibility, it is heart-breaking that we would be subjected to waves of unspeakable suffering.

In a previous article (Post-Traumatic Growth During COVID-19 | Larry Laveman) I wrote about Post Traumatic Growth; the positive changes that come from negative conditions. Victor Frankl, a holocaust survivor, says we should try to make meaning out of misery. He saw those suffering in concentration camps as having lost their meaning in life. In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl says, “The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity – even under the most difficult circumstances – to add a deeper meaning to his life.” Frankl did not let external suffering control him. Rather, he used it as a catalyst to find meaning in his life.

Unfortunately, Post-Traumatic Growth doesn’t help us reconcile the atrocities we see on the daily news, whether it be war, mass shootings, or the often malicious challenges to personal identity and choice. These extreme forms of suffering are anathema to our logical way of thinking. Nietzsche, the German philosopher, argues that suffering is an inevitable part of life brought about by the normal strain of living, what Buddha called the suffering of existence, and should be accepted, not denied. For Nietzsche, rather than eliminate suffering it’s more beneficial to learn from it and build strength of character.

While there’s no consoling someone in the throes of suffering, the truth is that the more we push against it the more we suffer. The redeemable aspects of suffering lie in its positive outcomes. Suffering builds resiliency, brings people together in grief, creates compassion for the human condition and helps us understand the frailty of life. Without suffering we would not experience gratitude. All these positive attributes are components of Post Traumatic Growth rising from post-traumatic stress. We develop positive human qualities not by reacting against the sorrow of suffering, but by accepting it in all its distressing forms.

There is no progress without opposition and suffering is a deeply painful form of opposition. In moments of despair dig down deep into your inner Buddha and accept suffering as a natural part of life. By interacting with suffering rather than pushing it away, we can keep our suffering from turning into something worse and not waste the opportunity to mature from that distress. When we repress our feelings, we tend to inadvertently create a worse outcome and response in ourselves. It is healthier to embrace suffering rather than trying to eliminate it. Although suffering is inevitable, our relationship to it is a choice. Research has shown that when we learn how to deal with suffering, life becomes better. Learning how to deal with suffering doesn’t change whether or not we suffer, but it does change our relationship to it. While we can’t control many of these external realities, we can control our response to them, and the power that they hold in our lives. Be mindful, and don’t let the cycles of suffering compromise your own agency.

Five Minute Articles For Your Consideration9 comments

  1. Janet says:

    Thank you for making a little sense out of the world condition. It’s truly is horrific to see what’s going on. I’ve always been an eternal optimist but even that’s hard now. Praying for peace and embracing the situation is all we can do now. ( And Vote Blue)

    • Larry says:

      Thanks, Janet! Just trying to add something positive to the conversation. It’s difficult when we hardly know how to converse any more. Stay positive! It’s so much better than the alternaive. Happy Holidays to you and Lee and your families!

  2. Thank you Larry. I have been thinking of you

  3. Hi Larry. I had a feeling that there’d be a bit of Viktor Frankl coming our way when I read the subject of your blog. “Man’s Search for Meaning” was suggested to me as a must-read book by a fellow traveler in the recovery world.
    One of our SMART Recovery exercises is called VACI. ( Vital Absorbing Creative Interest.) It’s defined as “…a SMART Recovery tool designed to help you think about new, healthful ways to find pleasure, fulfillment, or just simple contentment from activities that don’t rely on your substance or addictive behaviors of choice, and ultimately aim to replace them.”
    It’s been a vital component of my process of freeing myself from the tyranny of addiction and its primary underlying cause, fear. Thanks for an excellent and timely post..and, as always, it was great talking today.

    • Larry says:

      Fear, yes, it rules a lot of us. Thanks for your insights, Greg! Always good to hear from you and even better to talk to you! Happy Holidays! Keep writing!

  4. Simon de Leon says:

    Hello Larry, Thank you so much for sharing all this knowledge! Very awakening!

  5. Tony Volkas says:

    hello! Thanks for the article! I really like the way you write. Very cool! I just got some energy hahaha. I agree with you that it is very important at any age to be able to have fun and, in principle, allow yourself to have fun. it is very sad when people load themselves with work and generally forget about what fun is itself. I am so fond of relaxing my brain this way after working long hours. Wish you all here to find balance between work and relaxation! It is so nice to see so many people in this comment section who are into the same thing.

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