The Art of Suffering Successfully

In the course of our lives, we will be overwhelmed with a plethora of unforeseen tests, quandaries, and afflictions that at first appear to be seemingly insurmountable. In the face of these challenges, we have two options:

1) Easily fall into the abyss of a life crisis and self despair, or
2) Choose to embrace these obstacles and learn the way in which we can suffer successfully.

Which would you pick?

In Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life, one full chapter is dedicated to helping us master the art of suffering successfully. Here, suffering is portrayed in an unconventional light. Rather than being viewed as undesirable, it is instead deemed to be essential in enabling us to learn things we would otherwise not know anything of.

Cautioning us against becoming what Proust would coin bad sufferers, de Botton highlights the mindless ease with which we could allow our suffering to plunge us into baneful depths – where we conceive nothing new and yet employ ruinous defense mechanisms entailing anger and spite – rather than to actively harness our sufferings to create new ideas productively. In Proust’s words:

“The whole art of living is to make use of the individuals through whom we suffer. Grief, at the moment when they change into ideas, lose some of their power to injure our heart.”

The gem I gleaned from this was, really, to adopt new lenses through which to perceive, learn from and leverage the inevitable sufferings in everyday life. Instead of lamenting endlessly over things I have no capacity to change, I now feel compelled to view all sufferings as offerings of wisdom in masked form, waiting to be unveiled and put into good use.

Inspired by Proust, I am happy to have accomplished several things in the past year that I would otherwise probably not have done had I not channeled my quasi-negative energies to more productive pursuits. The most significant of these was starting to write again. There is an ineffable joy in writing that allows for a complete immersion in personal introspection. Anaïs Nin describes the experience of writing as such:

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment, and in retrospection. We write, like Proust, to render all of it eternal, and to persuade ourselves that it is eternal. We write to expand our world when we feel strangled, or constricted, or lonely. We write as the birds sing, as the primitives dance their rituals.”

I do not suppose validation in your writing to ever be unwelcome; in the past year, I celebrate my newly established role as contributing writer for an online publication based in New York City, the sharing of my words on my website, and my writing flying me to foreign lands (quite literally from having won a travel writing competition). For this, I thank all who/that have caused my sufferings, and thus urge you to reconsider the way in which you perceive and take on your everyday challenges.

May we all suffer successfully in life.

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