Chapter #4: The value of suffering
We have already established that suffering is inevitable but if we suffer for no reason than it makes us depressed while suffering for a meaningful cause makes the suffering endurable and enjoyable.
the self-awareness onion
For suffering to be meaningful, it needs to be tied to values which we believe to be true. We can identify our values by asking ourselves difficult questions. The uncomfortable answers help us become self-aware and this self-awareness helps us better deal with our problems. This happens in 3 stages:
- Understanding your feeling
This involves asking questions like: What makes me happy? What makes me sad? etc.
- Understanding the Why
The second layer of the self-awareness onion is the ability to ask yourself why we feel certain emotions. These questions illuminate what we consider success or failure.
E.g. Why do you feel lethargic and uninspired? Is it because you don’t think you’re good enough?
- The third level, the deeper one, is our personal values. Why do I consider this to be success/failure? By what standard am I judging myself and everyone around me ? How am I choosing to measure myself?
This is the most important level since it determines the nature of your problems which in turn determine the quality of your life.
There are a handful of values that create problems that cannot be solved:
People who focus their energy on superficial pleasures end up more anxious, more emotionally unstable, and more depressed. Pleasure is the type of satisfaction which is easiest to obtain and the easiest to lose.
- Material Success:
Once a person is able to provide for basic physical needs, the correlation between happiness and worldly success quickly approaches zero. The other issue with overvaluing material success is the danger of prioritizing it over other values like honesty, nonviolence, and compassion.
- Always being right:
People who base their self-worth on being right about everything prevent themselves from learning from their mistakes. It is far more helpful to assume that you are ignorant and don’t know a whole lot. This promotes a constant state of learning and growth.
- Staying positive:
When we force ourselves to stay positive at all time, we deny the existence of our life’s problems. And when we deny problems, we rob ourselves the opportunity to solve them and generate happiness.
One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful. (Freud)
Some of the greatest moments in life are not pleasant, not successful, not known, and not positive and that is why the above values create problems for us. They prevent us from taking up great challenges that are painful but essential to self-improvement.
defining good and bad values
Good values are:
- Reality based
- Socially constructive
- Immediate and controllable
Examples: honesty, humility, charity, standing up for oneself and for others, and innovation etc.
Bad values are:
- Socially destructive
- Not immediate or controllable
Examples: dominance through manipulation, feeling good all the time, being rich for the sake of being rich etc.
When we have poor values, we worry about the things that don’t matter and make our life worse. When we choose good values we focus our attention on things that matter, that help us become better people and that generate happiness, pleasure, and success as a side effect.