By Cathy Lao
“Suffering gives people a more accurate sense of their own limitations, what they can control and cannot control” (Brooks, 286).Anything we love or value makes us feel vulnerable because if it were taken away from us it would cause pain and suffering. To an extent, suffering is not something that we can control; we are able to manipulate the outcome, but suffering is inevitable. It is inevitable because as humans we constantly look for happiness. Suffering and happiness are Yin and Yang, so as long as we are searching for happiness, we will find suffering along the way. In “What Suffering Does,” David Brooks believes that recovering from suffering allows someone to grow and understand themselves on a deeper level, while From the Handbook of Epictetus, Epictetus believes that suffering can and should be avoided by detaching yourself from human emotions to reduce the value of people. While this would causeless pain, it would also remove you from the good pain. To be happy is to love and be loved, and if we can love, we can feel pain with our suffering.We feel pain because we know love. Suffering is necessary because nothing worthwhile in this life comes easy and you must be willing to put your ego and heart on the line if you want to reach your dreams. Suffering comes with happiness and love, but it is our perception of our life that brings us out of suffering and into happiness. By turning our expectations into appreciations, we can feel more gratitude for the things that we have, rather than be upset about the things that we do not have.
When I was younger, I had to transfer schools in the second grade, so I was the “new kid” at this new school. I lived in a predominantly hispanic area, and thus, I was one of the few asian students at a public school. I was bullied for being a small asian girl. The other students would constantly tease me for my haircut or the way my eyes looked. They would sing racist songs and assume stereotypes pertainingto asian culture. In addition to this verbal abuse, I was beat up by the kids that were bigger than me and if the kids smaller than me wanted to beat me up they would bring their friends and gang up on me.
I remember my first day of second grade; I was standing in line where my designated classroom number was, ready to state the pledge of allegiance. All of a sudden, a larger student picked me up by my ankles, swung me around in circles, and then threw me onto the concrete floor. This type of bullying did not cease; I was beat up regularly at school and I felt like I could not do anything about it. At some point throughout school, I grew tired of constantly being made fun of and being pushed around, so I decided that I was going to make myself stronger than my bullies. I joined the wrestling team at my local boys and girls program and took boxing classes at a non-profit gym. As I continued to train and strengthen my body, I became more confident in myself. I held my head high and walked with a straight back. The students did not treat me any different, but at least now I was able to defend myself from others who were trying to hurt me. Because I was able to stand up for myself, I treated myself differently; I respected myself and thought I was worthy enough to stand my ground, despite what other kids thought about me. I felt like a better person after this suffering because I had to adapt to the situation and change the way I perceived the world to keep moving forward. It would be ignorant to say suffering is easy to surpass, “rather than being the fragile flowers that a century of psychologists have made us out to be, most people are surprisingly resilient in the face of trauma (Gilbert, 97). Our brains display a more painful version of our suffering to protect us, just as it does with another emotion like fear. Despite what we may think, most people will endure the suffering to eventually form themselves into better and stronger people.
However, both of my parents disliked the idea of me rolling around with sweaty boys. They believed that if I was not studying, I was wasting my time. “Study hard and become a doctor,” they said. My parents were under the impression that I was wasting all my time performing physical activities, because apparently doctors don’t play sports. Throughout my childhood, my “Tiger Mom” constantly disparaged my physical endeavors and pushed me to be more girly. They didn’t want me in shorts practicing; they wanted me to be in a dress singing in choir. As I was being harassed in school, my parents did not support the only thing that felt like my saving grace; wrestling. My parents never understood that I was being bullied in school because I never looked like a victim; a kid would punch me and then I would punch back harder, so I was always at fault since I was stronger.
I do not consider my suffering terrible because I know that many people have it much harder than I do, however despite the severity of your suffering, only a change in perspective can turn suffering into a blessing. David Brooks criticizes that “people shoot for happiness but feel formed through suffering” (284). This is true because we are forced to find a new lens to see life through after suffering, whereas when we are happy we try our very best to maintain the same perspective to remain happy. All of those years I wanted my parents to be proud of me; I thought that if I won their praise I would be happy. At the time, I did not realize how much I accomplished in my three years of high school, while I was trying to make them proud. The lack of support formed me because as a result I am now a very independent person. I pay for my own college tuition. I live on my own, paying for rent with the job that I have. I love cooking and DIY projects, so I save money by cooking at home and making most of the house things. Supporting myself in college is one of my best accomplishments; I am able to do so without resentment from my parents because I never expected them to pay for my education anyways. Despite all the things that I seem to do on my own, I would not have been able to do any of this without the support and love from my friends and siblings.
As I got older, the students got more mature and my bullying problem in school became less of a problem, but it did not get easier. I was no longer bullied, but I was outcasted and felt different from everyone else. When I was a freshman in highschool, I was struggling to find my home; I did not feel safe at home because my parents did not support anything, but school was the lesser of two evils. The only thing that held me together was sports; I let out my anger in softball and perfected my flips at the gym. However, that was not enough to keep me sane. With the constant disapproval at home, I felt I was not good enough to live on. I was convinced that I would not survive in this world. I was ready to go and leave this world forever, but I could not do it. I did not kill myself that day because I could not bring myself to be selfish with my brother. I knew that if I had done what I wanted to do that day I would have destroyed the lives of the few people that loved me. I realized that day that I only need a handful of people in my life that love me to keep moving forward. It does not matter what life throws at me because I know I can keep standing up as long as I have my people standing with me.
Despite my suffering, I became happy because I changed my perception of the outside world by entering the flow. In his article “If We Are So Rich Why Aren’t We Happy?” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes flow as a state where the enjoyment of an activity is so pure that time passes by so quickly because the brain blocks all distractions and solely concentrates on the activity present. Though I was affected by the people that were bullying me, I found my own bubble of sanity in the chaos of school. Sports changed my life; it allowed me to fuel my anger and emotions in a positive way. Rather than trying to suppress my emotions and control them, I accepted them and used them to better myself in other areas of my life. I was formed through this suffering because I found happiness passed my suffering. This was achieved because of the supportive community I had in sports and entering the flow state that made me love myself.
As much as I believe that suffering has changed my life for the better, I do not actively seek suffering nor do I want it because it will always feel worse than it actually is. In his essay, Paradise Glossed, Daniel Gilbert asserts the idea that the way a person interprets their life, dramatically impacts their happiness. The interpretation of reality is influenced by the way one was raised and the environment they were brought up in. Circumstances and societal influences play a large role in how one perceives and thinks, therefore circumstances also determine actions and shape happiness. Happiness is derived from the meanings people choose to attach to their experiences. Gilbert’s emphasis on perseverance implies growth and love for oneself, thus the event will shape the perspective of the person and ultimately influence the amount of happiness one can experience.
Being bullied in school and overcoming that obstacle with my own solution made me a more resilient person. I was able to learn from this experience and understand why people bully others; in addition, I was able to believe in myself enough to make a dramatic change for myself. Because of this strong belief in myself, I love myself more and more everyday. This type of perseverance shaped me as a person and allowed me to feel more empathy for others. I understood why people bullied me and I came out stronger because I refused to hate them for bullying me, instead I accepted their decisions and changed my perspective on the circumstance. I choose to love myself more, rather than hating them more. In the end, my love for myself has only grown with time and it has only brought greatness into my life. I do not hold grudges; I try to understand people and their reasoning for their decisions before judging their actions; And I try to bring more love and laughter into the world.
I am strong because I have friends. I have people in the world that love me and I draw my strength from them. I get through my hard days because I can appreciate the days I can laugh and smile with them. I am strong and I have passion because I love people. My happiness comes from loving people and being loved by people. It is the way I have chosen to cope with my suffering. I have chosen to suffer because suffering is inevitable, but my happiness and the experiences and amount of love I receive from others makes the suffering worth it.
My method of happiness is completely opposite of Epictetus. He believes that you should not have that much faith in other people and that you should not depend on others because it raises the expectations. He believes in lowering your expectations to avoid disappointment and suffering. Epictetus advises, “If you kiss your child or your wife, say that you are kissing a human being; for when it dies you will not be upset” (90). This suggests that one should detach themselves from their emotions and remove all human reliance to avoid the suffering when they are gone. I believe that if I lived in fear of my losses, I would be unhappy. I think that taking the risk of being vulnerable is a good gamble to make depending on the situation of the people I am investing my heart in.
I think that in order to be happy you should turn all your expectations to appreciations. It is naive to live life believing that everyone will like you and that you are able to please everyone in your life. Thus, it is better to be who you are and love yourself to draw to the people that will love you at your best and at your worst. This will draw the most important people in your life and maintain them there. Happiness and perspective directly correlate with each other. The way in which one perceives is what ultimately creates our happiness. Nurture is key; people can be happy if they change their mindset and perspective on both negative and positive events. The solution to true happiness is choosing your perception and consciously performing activities that will help shape a more positive perception. In addition to choosing your own perception of life’s happenings, you need to understand that suffering is inevitable and when it comes you are stronger than you think you are. I try to fill my life with good people who care about me and believe in me when I do not because I know that I will always have courage when they are near.