Why is life making me suffer?
I used to ask myself this very question, as I always seemed to be in some form of suffering. Yes, I would have some good days along the way, but I spent most of my time unhappy and always seemed to be worrying about something or other.
Life just always seemed to be against me and wouldn’t fall into my ideal; nothing seemed to go right, and people didn’t act in the way I wanted or say what I thought they should say.
I was always searching for what was missing while thinking the outside could give it to me and so that’s where I looked. I thought, ‘I just need that promotion, a new car, a new partner, my own home and then I will finally be happy’ yet I achieved most of these things and still peace and happiness eluded me.
I also thought I had to manipulate the world into what I wanted it to be to find peace and happiness. If only I could get others to act how I wanted them to be, then I would finally be OK. I concluded like so many others do that it was the fault of the outside world and others why I was unhappy and that I just needed to make sure the outside and others were how I wanted them to be, and then peace of mind and happiness would follow.
This peace of mind and happiness is what everyone is looking for; they aren’t looking for the new car as a possession, they are looking for how it will make them feel. But how can a lump of metal ever make you feel happy inside? It can’t; it will never fill that lack inside, nothing on the outside can.
I genuinely believe that is why so many people do suffer these days as we are constantly bombarded with how we should look, how much money we should have, what material things we need, what job we need, what relationship we should have. That unless we achieve these things, then we can’t be happy. Unfortunately, the consumer market only has one interest, and your inner happiness is not one of them.
I finally realised that finding peace and happiness is an inside job and that the outside may bring snippets here and there, but I won’t find true peace and joy out there if I don’t already feel it within.
Blaming the outside can harm our friendships and relationships.
Blaming the outside for how we are feeling is also why many friendships and relationships can break down, as we mistakenly blame the other person for our emotional disturbance and unhappiness.
Because we blame them for how we are feeling, then we may lash out or think that the answer to our happiness is to change them and this is what ends up causing so much friction and arguments.
We can end up lashing out at others because we genuinely believe that this is what is causing us to feel the way that we do. It is the same with life, if we honestly think that life is making us suffer then we attempt to manipulate it. When this doesn’t work, we get angry, frustrated, stressed and so of course we suffer.
You have no control over others
The simple truth is that we have no control over how others are, who they are is hardwired into them and the result of the experiences they have had in life.
If they truly aren’t the person for you and the majority of their behaviour genuinely does make you unhappy, then in most cases you have the choice to leave the relationship or friendship behind.
But if you genuinely love and care for that person and want more peace and less drama in your friendships and relationships then begin to accept them as they are. Even if there are little quirks that annoy you then just recognise that no one is perfect.
Celebrate the fact we are all different; you cannot mould someone into who you want them to be. All attempts will just make them resent you and cause so much unwanted friction and drama and in some cases end up in you losing that person.
In my days of suffering, I lost a couple of relationships and a good friendship, as I too eventually blamed them for how I was feeling, I concluded that if I was suffering, then it had to be them.
It was only when I took a break and stepped back that I realised that I was the cause of the problems and that I was just projecting and blaming the other person for how I was feeling and so the inevitable break up followed.
It was at this point that I realised that I was doing the same thing with life. I was blaming my lack of happiness and inner peace on life itself. I honestly thought my life was the reason I was suffering and so I either spent all my time complaining about it or trying to manipulate it and then getting angry when it wouldn’t fall into place.
I would complain when it rained, complain when I was stuck in traffic, moan when the shop ran out of milk, get angry if someone cancelled on me, the list was endless.
The irony is that all of these things that I thought were making me suffer, I didn’t have one ounce of control over. Yet, there I was spending my whole day complaining about them!! There were people in the world who had no food, water or transport and could only dream of going to the shop to buy food, to drive a car and be stuck in traffic or have water drop from the sky so they could cure their thirst, and there was I complaining about it all.
I started to understand now that my suffering and my breakdown was not due to life but my non-acceptance of life as it was. It began to make real sense as to why I was always stressed and unhappy.
My lack of happiness and peace was due to my complete resistance to life as it was and because of this, my mind was never at peace with anything.
If my mind was always disturbed, stressed, worried and complaining then it made sense as to why I was never at peace. Life and others didn’t need to change to suit me; this was all down to my attitude changing.
Accepting life is full of ups and downs
The end of so much of my suffering was about seeing life and reality as it truly was and making peace with it, even when things didn’t go my way. I never complained when life went well, so why would I complain when it didn’t? Where was the rule made that it must always go our way?
The truth is that life is full of ups and downs, good and bad things will happen, that was the reality of life. But I never accepted this; life always had to go how I wanted it to, and others must behave how I thought they should. I was at constant war with my experience and then wondered why I suffered as I did!
It seems utterly crazy to me now that I could ever believe this could be possible and that I could ever think I could find peace with this mindset. The odds of one day going exactly how I felt it should, would be over a billion to one, never mind for the rest of my life.
Life didn’t care about me or my needs; it just carried on regardless. I could either accept the reality of life with all its ups and downs or I could spend all my days suffering by fighting, worrying and getting angry with it. I tried the latter approach for many years and life always won; it wouldn’t change because I wanted it. I still got stuck in traffic, it continued rained on my day off, and I still couldn’t find my keys when I was late.
I finally accepted that life was a mixture of ups and downs, highs and lows. Some days great things would happen, and other days everything would go wrong. This process was part of life, and the ones who suffer less are the ones who accept this.
I used to come across people who always seem to be chilled and calm, nothing seemed to go wrong, and I thought they were just lucky. Looking back now, I realise it had nothing to do with luck; they mainly had the same problems as others, but they just accepted them as part of life. It wasn’t life that created their inner calm; it was their attitude towards it.
A true story of how a change in attitude brought less suffering
I have told the story below before, but I think it is worth repeating as it had such an effect on me and taught me a lot about how we create so much of our own suffering.
It is a story about a man who had fought in the gulf war where he lost a leg and half his arm in combat and was bound to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
He said when he first arrived home, he would argue with everyone around him, snap at his partner and children. He wouldn’t accept any help and started drinking heavily. He felt immense frustration and anger due to his situation and what life had thrown at him and fell into a deep depression.
He was on the verge of ending it all and looked at his daughter sleeping when a sudden realisation hit him. He realised he did have so much to live for and that even with his disability he could still enjoy life. He may not look like he did before but inside he felt like the same person, and that it was only the anger at his predicament that was changing his personality.
He said it was at that moment that he fully accepted his situation and with it, this immense calm came over him. He realised he wasn’t suffering because of being in a wheelchair but because he hadn’t accepted it.
This man went on to represent his country in the Paralympics and now does talks all over the country to those in the same situation.
This story hit me very hard when I read it, and it took me back to my non-acceptance of my anxiety that created so much extra suffering. When I initially suffered, I was always fighting against it, arguing with it and feeling sorry for myself, not once did I accept my situation.
I remember feeling a similar peace when I let go and just allowed myself to fall into it. The anxiety was still there, but it felt different now I had finally allowed its presence and all the extra suffering created through the resistance to it fell away.
I realised the same principle held true for my life, that life wasn’t making me suffer, it was my non-acceptance of the ups and downs of it that did. My suffering was telling me that I wasn’t accepting life and others as they were.
This realisation is just pure science that if you allow things to be as they are, then there is nothing to stress or worry about, so then only peace remains. I am not saying this is easy at first, especially when we are conditioned to react differently, but with practice, it does start to become a more natural way of being.
My first test came when I was out cycling and had my wallet and phone stolen from my car. Apart from the financial cost, this was a major headache to me as it meant changing all my bank cards, getting a new driving licence and also the hassle of getting a new phone.
But even though all this had happened, I was strangely calm, like I had this inner knowing that there was nothing I could do about it. What had happened was the reality of the situation, and there was no point getting stressed or worried about it, all I could do was go and sort it out.
I would not say that I always reacted correctly and at times I did fall back into old responses, but overall there was a real shift in my attitude and due to this I found a lot more inner peace.
Accepting life as it is
Accepting life as it is doesn’t mean you don’t try and achieve anything, it’s good to succeed as long as it is not to the detriment of your health.
It also doesn’t mean you shrug your shoulders and stop caring. It means you learn to accept the reality of the situation and then take what action is needed to resolve it in a calm and balanced way. Understanding that getting angry and stressed about it only hurts you and does nothing to change the situation.
I know there are things in life that really test us and I recently had a situation where I couldn’t help but feel the strain of it. I didn’t try and deny this, I accepted the predicament and just did the best I could and allowed the concern to be present while adding no more worry to the mix.
I also realise that some really traumatic things have happened to people in their life that have caused them a lot of pain and they may need extra help and support to work through them.
But I am mainly reaching out to those who continuously stress and worry over everyday problems, things that they have no control over. To help them see that not one person who has lived on this planet has never had anything not go wrong.
I am not saying this new attitude happens overnight, it doesn’t, but life will present you with opportunities every day to practice, and in time the new approach becomes automatic.
It is about training your mind to react differently to a situation, so it spends more time in a calm space and less time in a frantic, worrying state. The less you worry and stress, then the more your mind begins to calm down naturally, and so you start to feel more peace in your life.
So much suffering is self-created
I was the reason I had a breakdown; it wasn’t due to my life or circumstances; it was a wrong vision on my part, a non-acceptance of reality as it was. My life didn’t need to change for me to be happy and find peace, just my relationship with it.
My suffering was actually telling me this and guiding me back to the right path, it forced me to look and change and so in that sense it was a blessing.
You can’t create peace; as it is your natural state. To experience it, then you just need to stop doing the things that are disturbing it. My worrying, complaining and stressing is what took me away from it. You look at anyone who suffers, and in most cases, you will find a chronic worrier, stressor or someone who always expects things to go their way. Life won’t fall into place for them to no longer suffer, only a change in attitude and perception will.
Life still brings me the same problems and challenges as it did before but my reaction and way of dealing with them are entirely different. I no longer spend my time pointlessly complaining or worrying, and due to this, I have much more peace in my life.
Life didn’t change to bring me far more peace and happiness, I did.
This article is taken from a chapter in my book ‘At last a life and beyond’