How to Be Happy When You Are Suffering or Life is Bad
We are not so good in our society and culture in dealing with loss and suffering, which is something I have decades of experience with. I am 58 years old and my retirement money has been taken as well as most of my assets. I am starting over with pretty much nothing. Let that sink in. And I am still happy. I am happy despite my circumstances and I know what it takes to live a happy and healthy life during dark times. Nearly 25 years ago my first child died in utero when I was six months pregnant and then I had to deliver her and decide whether to bury her body or to have her cremated. I have her ashes with me and she will be buried with me when I pass away because I was going to be moving and I didn’t want her to be alone in a cemetery that I would not be able to visit (and the Monsignor at my parish said that as long as I kept her ashes together that was approved in the Catholic faith).
The death of my daughter, Christina, was followed by the fact that I was told that I would have to have a hysterectomy and that I would never be able to bear any children, which was a crushing blow on top of losing my daughter. While I did end up having 3 children naturally and clearly didn’t have a hysterectomy, those were difficult months following her death. I know a lot more about hardship and suffering that I can’t write about because there are other problems I have endured that would not be appropriate to share – here and now or perhaps ever. I know that I have the skills and abilities to generate happiness and joy in my life even when times are excruciatingly painful. I also know that anyone can learn what it takes to be happy and have joy even in the most difficult of circumstances. That is what this post is about.
Human suffering can be caused by a multitude of situations like the death of a spouse, child, family member or friend, the loss of a job, a relationship breakup, a marriage ending, moving, abuse of any kind including emotional, psychological, economic, physical or sexual, health problems, being a care giver, financial problems, legal problems, never having children if you had wanted them, never getting married if you had wanted to, housing problems, not having good friends or enough of them, toxic relationships of any kind, and feeling isolated, alone, or lonely to name common ones. There are plenty of people suffering. The question is what do you do when you are suffering or feeling like life is too hard or bad?
We mostly don’t talk about these things. We avoid them. We dismiss them. We skip over them. That’s just not helpful to the people weathering these kinds of hardships. Before I dive into this topic I want to mention if you are feeling suicidal, please call your local suicide hotline or crisis center immediately. There is help available and there is no shame in asking for help. I must also repeat the fact that I am not a licensed therapist or medical professional of any kind and what I am presenting here is simply my views and experience on how to be happy in the face of painful or difficult circumstances that causes you to suffer or make life really hard.
Where do most people turn in very dark times regardless of their background? More often than not, in times of deep trouble, people turn to God and prayer. God offers hope eternal and even those individuals who have no belief in God often turn to the Heavens for help in desperate situations. In 2013, I happened to begin reading a book titled “Holy Abandonment” written in 1934 by Rt. Reverend Dom Vitalis Lehodey, O.C.R. A Goodreads.com summary states: “…that all whatsoever happens to us in this life either has been allowed to happen by Almighty God, or He has sent to us directly as some kind of special cross or lesson or chastisement.” Little did I know the Divine Providence of this book coming into my life that year as a string of really horrific things came to light in the following year, which prompted, quite reasonably, a torrent of suffering and pain. While the “Holy Abandonment” book is not a book I would recommend to the average reader, there is one aspect that I want to share from this book, which categorizes the 3 levels of suffering.
I am totally paraphrasing here since I no longer have the book and it has been around 4 or 5 years since I read it. Off the top of my head, here is my recollection of how the author lays out the 3 levels of suffering.
Now, ahem. Really? Who would ever ask for more suffering? Yeah. I have no idea because it is definitely not me. The balance of this post is about putting suffering in an empowering context and the process of how to get some level of happiness or joy while you are going through it- all from the vantage point of my personal experience having made it through 3 concurrent traumas in the past 20 plus years, not including the death of my daughter.
My takeaway from reading the “Holy Abandonment” book was a very empowering context for suffering, which inspired and empowered me. One purpose for suffering is for the purification and sanctification of our souls. What does that mean? Sanctification of a soul means the Holy Spirit’s work of making us holy or creating faith in us so that through his power we produce good works. To think of the horrible pain that I was going through as something that would purify and sanctify my soul made me feel infinitely better. It gave a purpose to the suffering. And guess what? I am for sure a better person because of what I have been through. I would never ever wish it on anyone else. Nor do I talk about it for the most part. And at the same time, I am clearly a better person because of it.
Another way to look at the empowering context of suffering is that it is the opportunity to increase our virtues namely that of humility, kindness, patience, diligence, charity, temperance, and chastity. In March 2015, while still in the throes of deep suffering, our local parish priest gave a talk about the Book of Job from the Bible, which was also deeply empowering with respect to suffering. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Job from the Bible – basically he suffered a lot. The priest introduced us to the concept of redemptive suffering, and what follows are my exact notes from the priest’s lecture, which I am sharing here because this has been very powerful for the many people with whom I have shared it with over the past years.
Redemptive Suffering: is when a person is uniting their suffering (spiritually) to the suffering, passion and death of our Lord, Jesus Christ. GRACE is available when you use this process – the process of joining our suffering with the suffering of Jesus for ________(fill in who you are offering your suffering for). It is also a process by which you are co-creating with God for the betterment of the world.
You would say it like this: “Lord, I am suffering, and I unite my suffering with the suffering of your son, Jesus Christ and I offer my suffering for ________(fill in the blank).”
Who do you offer your suffering for? Here are some examples of what could go in the blank:
Other notes on this subject: We have a choice when faced with suffering. Do we offer it up and unite our suffering with the suffering of Jesus for the benefit of (whomever) OR for yourself. Or do we become bitter? It is not selfish to pick yourself as the person to benefit from the act of redemptive suffering so don’t be afraid to say for the benefit of myself!
The priest concluded with: Life is hard. Very hard.
Copyright 2019 Lisa A. Lundy – Original watercolor painting
This is my abbreviated take on the process – the process of how to move from suffering at any level to being able to be happy even while things are difficult and you are suffering. I will refer to some of my past blog posts so as not to repeat myself because I have already laid out some of the practices and habits that will help you move from where you are to a happier place in the Dealing with Overwhelm post.
Copyright 2019 by Lisa A. Lundy – original watercolor painting
Napoleon Hill, Author of “Think and Grow Rich”, a classic written in 1937, is quoted as saying: “Every adversity, every failure and every heartache carries with it the seed of an equivalent or greater benefit.” Life is hard. That’s not in question here. What is in question is what are you going to do when you are having difficult times or hardship? You can slink away quietly into the night, or you can dig in and start planning to pull yourself out of it. I know it’s not easy. I know how brutally tough life can be. What I know for a fact is that the more work you do on yourself, the more you grow and develop, the easier it is to deal with life’s difficulties and hardships.
The skills and habits that you develop by doing the work on yourself will serve you well. Fortunately for me, I just happened to have developed these practices and habits early in life. Thank God. I mean, you have no idea how much I mean Thank God. At the present moment I am dealing with some things in life that are really painful and I can’t write about that because they involve other people. Yet, due to the work I have done on myself, I have mostly happy days despite the hardships that I am experiencing. So, I know first-hand that this can be done.
The question is are you willing to do what it takes to have a happy life? Are you willing? If you are willing, then it can be done. Let me know how I can support you on your journey. You can do this. I know that you can. Let me help you.
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Table of Contents Do You Have these 8 Things That Will Help You Flourish in Life Regardless of What Happens? Hint: It’s not too late