How to Be Happy When You Are Suffering or Life is BadWe 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.
The 3 Levels of SufferingI 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.
- You get through it. You get through the suffering basically.
- You get through it with some joy and happiness. You still suffer but you are able to find some happiness and joy during the suffering.
- You intentionally ask God for more suffering.
An Empowering Context for SufferingMy 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 SufferingRedemptive 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:
- The salvation of the world
- The souls in purgatory
- The healing of someone
- The benefit of someone – you pick the person
- Or you can leave it up to God and say – I am offering this up for whomever or whatever you, God, sees fit.
The PROCESS of how to be Happy when you are suffering: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.
- Acknowledge whatever it is that is the source of your hardship or suffering. There is great power in acknowledging what you are dealing with. It is the place to start.
- Speak it/Own it/Claim it. To be able to say “I am having difficulties or hardship because of X, Y, or Z” is part of you claiming the situation. It is the beginning of transforming it and doing the work to get to a better place. The more you can authentically speak and claim what you are dealing with, the more help and support you will find sometimes in unexpected ways and through unexpected people.
- FEEL your feelings. Denying your feelings does not make them go away. Neither does minimizing them or diminishing your feelings. The most powerful place to start after acknowledging and claiming the situation is to feel your feelings – whatever they are – and most likely there are several feelings that need to be processed.
- GRIEVE the loss or hardship. While grief and grieving a loss is worthy of an entire post alone, for the purposes here, let me just say that to learn how to grieve a loss is a powerful life lesson. Life is hard. There are plenty of things that will leave you grieving over time. To learn how to deal with that is powerful. Now is the perfect time to start if you are up against it.
- Have a Pity Party, if needed, but for a limited duration. Pity parties are sometimes appropriate. Do that, if needed or as needed, but make sure that you are not excessively engaging in feeling sorry for yourself because that is never going to get you to a happy life.
- DECIDE what you COULD be grateful for and make a list of that. Gratitude is a powerful emotion that is very positive for health and wellbeing. Gratitude is also the subject for a coming post, but for now, do what you can to be grateful because regardless of what you are experiencing there are always things to be grateful for.
- Look at your attitudes and beliefs. What are your attitudes and beliefs about life? Do you have the “I can’t win” belief or the “life sucks” mentality? Contrast that with the philosophy of “Good things happen to me” or “everything is happening for my good” concept. If you believe that things are never going to get better then they probably won’t. If you believe that things are going to get better, then they will. What if you asked the question: what am I to learn from this experience? Or how can I grow and develop from this situation? A close examination of your attitudes and beliefs can be very helpful here and there is a lot more to come on this topic.
- Examine what practices or habits you can put in place to move forward. On this note, I would strongly urge you to read my post on dealing with Overwhelm, which contains 29 tips to help you with overwhelm because the same 29 tips will help you when you are suffering or dealing with hardship. I would suggest that you read through the overwhelm post and pick a few of the 29 tips and start implementing them. They are not overly difficult and they will help you feel better.
- MAKE A LIST. Oh, here I go again with making a list! Yep. Here I go again. I’m very excited about an upcoming post about the major benefits from making a list and I would venture a guess that you will be surprised at the substantial benefits making a list provides. I would make a list of what habits and practices you need to implement to move forward and begin to start doing those things.
- MAKE A LIST of what makes you HAPPY. When you are suffering or in difficult times, you need to get really, really clear about what makes you happy. What are the things you can do that bring you joy and happiness? Who are the people you can be around that make you laugh and bring a smile to your face? Make a list of everything that makes you happy and start intentionally putting that into your life. I have written about doing this in past blog posts, so you can find more in previous posts.
- Create a TEAM to help you. I wrote a little about this in my previous blog post on dealing with Overwhelm, so you can look at that. I will be putting up a whole post dedicated to the formation and creation of a TEAM, so that’s coming. People will help you. I promise you that there are people in your life, or perhaps people you have yet to meet who would be very happy to help you if they knew you needed help.
- Pay attention to your feelings, attitudes and beliefs as you might need to corral them every now and then. This touches on the subject of training your mind and your brain, which I will not get into here because it is also a future post coming as soon as I can get to it. Given what we know about the neuroplasticity of the brain, it is very possible to train your brain. For now, pay attention to how you are feeling and what you are thinking. If you are not feeling happy then take an action to counter-balance that feeling and move you into a happier state.
- Make up your mind that NO ONE and NOTHING has the power to take ALL of your happiness and joy away. One of the reasons that I was able to deal with 3 concurrent traumas, lasting more than 2 decades, was this very statement. I made up my mind a long time ago that no one and nothing had the power to take away all my happiness and joy in life. Then, given that philosophy, I took actions to put happiness and joy in my life. It’s all about being intentional and counter-balancing negativity and suffering, which can be done.
- Go into therapy if you need to.
- Get a coach if you need to.
- Start helping other people who could really use a hand – if that is possible. Sometimes when you have extenuating circumstances and an overwhelming situation, this is just not humanly possible. Yet, some people have the circumstances that they could help others if they wanted to. Consider whether this is possible for you, and if so, start right away.
- Pray like crazy. Pray while you are walking, driving, pumping gas. Pray like it matters. If you don’t believe in prayer then this suggestion is not for you. However, if you are really suffering or experiencing really difficult times, you might find prayer helpful. If not try meditating.
- Create a vision for your future that inspires you. While this is not the easiest thing to do when you are suffering or having great difficulties or hardships, almost everyone can create a future event, trip, or get together that they can look forward to. So, do that. In the meantime, the most powerful thing you can do is start to look to the future and create a vision of what your life will look like – and then begin to do the work to get there.
- Do the work. It takes something to be happy when times are tough. It’s not something that magically happens in difficult times. And yet, there is no question that you can be happy and feel love and joy when you are suffering or up against it. It does take something though. You have to be intentional. You have to do the work. You have to have the habits and practices that give you happiness. When you establish the practices and habits as ingrained habits and practices then it won’t be work anymore because it will be a natural expression of you living life.
Concluding ThoughtsNapoleon 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.