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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

Life Is Pain: Why a Life Without Pain Guarantees True Suffering

Life Is Pain: Why a Life Without Pain Guarantees True Suffering

No one wants to suffer, but it’s generally accepted that life is pain. As a general rule, people like to avoid hurt and pain as much as possible. As a species, humans want a painless existence so much that scientists make a living trying to create it.

People can now choose “pain-free” labor for babies, and remedies to cure back pain, headaches, body-pains, and even mental pains are a dime a dozen. Beyond medicine, we also work hard to experience little pain even when it comes to loss; often times we believe a breakup won’t hurt as much if we are the ones to call it off.

But would a world without pain truly be painless? It’s unlikely. In fact, it would probably be painful exactly for that reason.

If people never experienced hurt, they wouldn’t know what it was. On the surface level, that seems like a blessing, but think for a moment: if we didn’t know pain, how would we know peace? If you don’t know you’ve hurt or been hurt, how would you know that you need to heal? Imagine someone only knowing they have an incurable cancer at the final stage because no obvious symptoms have appeared in the early stages.

Without the feeling of pain, people wouldn’t be aware of dangerous situations—what they should or shouldn’t do for survival. The fact that life is pain is ultimately a good thing for all of us, and here’s why.

Why Is Life So Painful?

Pain serves to protect human beings from harmful actions. It’s the same reason parents teach babies that fire equals hot, and that hot equals hurt. Should the baby still place its hand in a fire or on a stove, the intense pain remains so memorable that the child is certain never to repeat that action.

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In the same way, pain within human bodies can serve as a warning that something is not right. Because you know what it is to feel “well,” you know what it is to feel poorly.[1]

Along with serving as a teacher of what not to do, pain also teaches you what you are made of in terms of what you can handle as an individual.

While the cliché, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is a tired term, it’s used excessively for a reason: it’s true. Pain helps you learn to cope with life’s inevitable difficulties and sadness— to develop the grit it takes to push past hardships and carry on when life is pain.

Whether it’s a shattering pain, like the loss of a loved one or a debilitating accident, pain affects everyone differently, but it still affects everyone. Take a breakup as an example; anyone who has experienced it knows it can hurt to the point of feeling physical. At a young age, it feels like the loss of the only love you’ll ever know. As you grow and learn, you realize you’re more resilient with every ended relationship.

No Pain, No Happiness

You only know happiness when you have known life is pain. While the idea of constant happiness sounds nice, there is little chance it would be. Without the comparison to happiness, there’s no reason to be grateful for it. That is to say, without ever knowing sadness or pain, you would have no reason to be grateful for happiness.

In reality, there is always something missing, or something unpleasant, but it is only through those realizations that you know to be grateful when you feel you have it all.

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Read more about why happiness and pain have to exist together: Chasing Happiness Won’t Make You Happy

In a somewhat counter-intuitive finding, researchers found one of the things that brings about the most happiness is challenge. When people are tested, they experience a greater sense of accomplishment and happiness when they are successful. It is largely for this reason that low-income individuals can often feel happier than those who have a sense of wealth.[2]

This is a great thing to remember the next time you feel you would be happier if you just had a little more cash.

Avoiding Pain Leads to More Suffering

Life is pain, and pain is inevitable, so embrace it positively. Anyone who strives to have a painless life is striving for perfection; and perfection guarantees sadness because nothing will ever be perfect.

This isn’t a bleak outlook, but rather a truthful one. The messy moments in life tend to create the best memories and gratitude. Pain often serves as a reminder of lessons learned, much like physical scars on the body.

Pain will always be painful, but it’s the hurt feelings that help wiser decisions be made.

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Allow Room for the Inevitable

Learning how to tolerate pain, especially the emotional kind, is a valuable lesson.

Accepting and feeling pain makes you human. There is no weakness in that. Weakness only comes when you try to blame your own pain on someone else, expecting the blame to alleviate your hurt. There’s a saying,

“Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting your enemy to die.”

Think back to the last time you were really angry with someone. Maybe you were hurt because you got laid off from a job. You felt angry, and that anger caused so much pain that you could feel it in a physical way. Being angry and blaming your ex-boss for that pain didn’t affect him or her in any way; you’re the only one who lost sleep over it.

The healthier thing to do in a situation like that is acknowledge your pain and the anger along with it. Accept it and explore it in an introspective way instead of seeing things in black and white. 

How can you learn and grow? What is at the root of that pain? Are you truly hurting and angry about being laid off, or is the pain more a correlation to you feeling like you failed?

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While uncomfortable, exploring your pain is a way to raise your self-awareness. By understanding more about yourself, you know how to deal with similar situations in the future when you see that life is pain.

You can never expect to be numb to difficult situations, but you will learn to better prepare financially for the loss of a job and be grateful for an income since you now know nothing is promised (no matter how much you work or how deserving you may feel).

Pain Hurts, but Numbness Would Be Worse

Why does life hurt? Hopefully now you realize that physical and emotional pain may not feel good, but the bad feeling of it will help you learn and grow. It makes the sweet moments in life even sweeter and the gratitude more sincere.

To have a happier and more successful life, you don’t learn from success or accomplishment, but through pain and failures. It is in those moments that you learn how to do better in the future, or at least cope a little more easily when life is pain.

You are the strong person you are today because of the hardships this life has presented to you. While you may have felt out of control when those hard times came, the one thing you will always have control over is how you choose to react to things.

The next time you hurt or you’re angry or sad, acknowledge it and allow yourself to ruminate in it. Then, take a deep breath and start learning from that pain.

More on Dealing With Difficulties

Featured photo credit: Carolina Heza via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] University of Calgary: Why is Pain Important?
[2] Greater Good Magazine: The Importance of Pain

More by this author

Anna Chui

Anna is a communication expert and a life enthusiast. She's the Content Strategist of Lifehack and loves to write about love, life, and passion.

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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

Understanding Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: 5 Levels Explained

Understanding Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: 5 Levels Explained

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a theory of motivation that lists five categories of human needs that dictate individual behavior. These five categories refer to physiological needs, safety needs, love and belonging needs, esteem needs, and self-actualization needs.[1]

Motivation plays a big part in athletic coaching. I spent 44 years coaching basketball and each day at practice, I was trying to motivate our athletes to give their best effort. In this article, I will examine Maslow’s hierarchy and five areas of needs from an athletic perspective.

1. Physiological Needs

These needs represent the most basic human survival needs. They include food, water, rest, and breathing, and all four have importance in athletics.

Food has had an evolution in the world of athletics. I cannot recall my coaches in the 1950s and ‘60s mentioning anything about food. As time went on, the pre-game meal became important. Steak seemed to be the meal of choice early in the evolution. Research then indicated pasta would be the better choice.[2]

Today, I think most coaches prefer pasta. However, if the players are ordering from menus, some coaches believe the players should stick with their regular diets and order accordingly.

The next step in this evolution was that the pre-game meal, although important, is not nearly as critical as the athletes’ overall nutrition. At our University of St. Francis athletic seminars, we invited nutritionists to speak and to educate our players on their nutritional habits.

The ultimate change in food intake may be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback, Tom Brady. He adheres to a specific, disciplined diet that has allowed him to play superb football at age 43.

Water also has had an evolution in sports. It went from not being allowed in practices to coaches scheduling water breaks during the practices.

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Rest is extremely important in all sports, and statistics validate its importance. NBA research found that during the course of the season teams win 6 of 10 games at home but only 4 of 10 on the road. In the NBA playoffs, the statistics change to 6.5 at home and 3.5 on the road. Many coaches believe rest is the key factor to these statistics because the players are sleeping in their own beds for home games.[3]

Our St. Francis basketball team found the importance of breathing on a trip to play in a tournament in Colorado. In our first game, we were playing great and winning by 12 points early in the game. Then the altitude kicked in, adversely affected our breathing, and we lost the lead and eventually the game.

In our second game, having learned our lesson, we substituted more frequently! Maslow’s idea of physiological needs plays a major part in the athletic arena.

2. Safety Needs

Safety needs include protection from violence, emotional stability and well-being, health security, and financial security.

If a fight breaks out during a basketball game, there can be serious injuries. This is the reason a coach steps in immediately when there is any violence or dirty play in practice. The coach must protect the players. You drill your teams to play hard—never dirty.

The importance of emotional stability has gained more credence in sports in recent years. Many teams hire psychologists to help work with their players. There is a great deal of player failure in sports and it is critical for the players to stay emotionally stable.

Health security is much more prevalent in sports today than in my playing days. I once got a concussion during a basketball game. We had no trainers. The coach handled it by telling me after the game, “Sullivan, you play better when you don’t know where the hell you are!” He was right, and my medical treatment ended there! Games today have trainers available to protect the health of the athletes.

Financial security is predominant in professional sports. Most players today use free agency to go where the money is because they consider sport not to be a sport at all. They believe it is a short-term business at their level. I personally appreciate the athletes who have taken less money so the team can retain teammates or use the dollars to bring in new players.

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3. Love and Belonging Needs

These needs can be summed up with two words: love and relationships.

After teams win championships, you will often hear coaches say, “I love these guys” or “I loved coaching this team.” You can tell by their body language and the tone of their voice that they really mean it.

I think coaches say this because the season can be a tough grind. Practices, scouting, film work, travel, and problems that arise take a toll on coaches. However, when you have teams that give all they have every night in practice, you do come to love them.

ESPN did a 30-30 segment on the North Carolina State national championship team coached by Jim Valvano. I was especially interested in watching it because I knew a player on the team who used to come to our camps. Terry Gannon played a major role in their championship.

The program was a reunion of their players. This was 20 plus years from their title, and if you were to take one thing away from the show, it would be how much the players loved each other.

In the last analysis, sport is all about relationships. You can meet former teammates with whom you played 40 to 50 years earlier and that athletic bond is as strong as it ever was. Although you may have not seen each other in years, your friendship is so cemented it’s like you have been seeing each other weekly.

David Halberstam’s book, The Teammates: A Portrait of a Friendship, validates the relationship between athletics forges. Ted Williams is dying and three of his former Boston Red Sox teammates—Bobby Doerr, Johnny Pesky, and Dom DiMaggio—make the trip to Florida to see him. Even though 50 years had passed since they played together, the bond among them never waned.

Love and belonging epitomize the essence of sports.

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4. Esteem Needs

These needs are characterized by self-respect and self-esteem. Self-respect is “the belief that you are valuable and deserve dignity.” Self-esteem is twofold—“it is based on the respect and acknowledgment from others and esteem which is based on your own self-assessment.”[4]

Often the players on the bench are the ones the coach respects the most because they work so hard in practices yet receive none of the glory. The best coaches never let the starters or stars ever denigrate the players on the bench. Coaches must always acknowledge the value and the dignity of those who play little. They often turn out to be the superstars of their professions.

Some coaches will never get “it.” They think they can motivate their players by degrading them. They embarrass the athletes during games and they constantly berate their performance in practices.

Great coaches are just the opposite. They are encouragers. They do push their players and they push them hard, but they always respect them. Great coaches enhance the self-esteem and confidence of their players.

5. Self-Actualization Needs

“Self-actualization describes the fulfillment of your full potential as a person.”[5]

I believe three words are the key to self-actualization: potential, effort, and regrets.

You often hear in athletics that a player has potential. It also is not uncommon for the person introducing the athlete to rave about his potential. I was fortunate to work with an outstanding man in the Milwaukee Bucks camps, Ron Blomberg. Ron had the best definition of potential that I ever heard: “Potential means he hasn’t done it.” Will he do all the work necessary to fulfill his potential?

Effort is great, but it’s not enough. If you want to reach your full potential, you must have a consistency of effort in your daily habit. Only consistency of effort can lead to success.

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John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach, said that success is becoming all your ability will allow you to be. He agreed with his friend, major league umpire, George Moriarty, even though he used to kid him. Coach told him he never had seen Moriarty spelled with just one “i.” He followed this with, “Of course, the baseball players accused him of having only one ‘eye’ in his head as well.”

In his poem, The Road Ahead or The Road Behind, Moriarty wrote,

“. . . for who can ask more of a man
than giving all within his span, it seems to me, is not so far from – Victory.

When your life is winding down and you look back if you can say you gave “all in your span”—that you consistently gave it your best effort—you will have reached your full potential and there will be no regrets.

Final Thoughts

Now that you’ve learned more about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, consider reflecting on the last two needs (esteem needs and self-actualization needs) and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you doing all you can to enhance the self-esteem of those around you?
  • Are you doing all you can to self-actualize the potential you have been given?

Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

Reference

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