Suffering is not the opposite of joy. Just like failure and success are not necessarily opposites. There’s a close correlation between pain and pleasure, or failure and success. If you are a runner, you will be familiar that after an intense running, runners experience a sense of euphoria that has been linked to the production of opioids, a neurochemical that is also released in response to pain. This is called “Runner’s High”.
If you’re not so much a runner, what if you want to be a great singer? To be a great singer, you have to put in work. Sing every day. Train your breathing. Watch other singers and analyze their style. Do gigs. Keep your voice healthy. All of that work could be seen as “suffering”. The opposite is much easier: hang out with friends, go to movies, take naps, essentially don’t do much. Without the suffering, then, you can’t get the joy of being a great singer.
“As long as you are too focused on your self-importance and too caught up in thinking about how you are good or bad, you will experience suffering.”
– The Dalai Lama
We can’t reduce suffering. But we can reduce the amplification of pain within the suffering by focusing less on ourselves. Removing the self-importance is an important step. Realize that everyone suffers. Athletes train to get better. Singers sing and get booed at gigs. Entrepreneurs lose money and think it’s over before they really have a successful business.
Stephen King had his first novel, “Carrie”, rejected 30 times before it was published. It was a similar number of rejections for J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter. Before they experienced the joy and success, they suffered.
Celebrate every small amount of joy. You are going to fail. You’re going to suffer. Take a small amount of joy in those moments. Understand they are learning experiences. You will grow from them. Very few people marry their first love; many go through heartbreaks. Very few people see their first professional endeavor be a total success; many scrap and fail before they find some success. Find a way to track your progress and to set and celebrate little benchmarks. The point is, you are making progress. Even if it feels like suffering, you can see that it’s leading you to joy.
When you first start running, you may struggle to run 2 or 3 km. After a few months, you might be running 10 km. After a year, it might be a half marathon. All of that is a struggle and suffering. But it’s also beautiful. You are gaining strength and becoming more fit. Failure is hard, but it’s a necessary element of life. Find beauty in those moments because you are growing.