By Mazwi Tyson Zondi
Despite what you may assume, human beings are natural optimists. We gather together in the face of tragedy, we hope, we can identify the silver Iining in even the most dire of circumstances. Our suffering, it seems, is something we do in private. It is in the way our thoughts consume us, not how we actually act when we are actually called to be present. This is one of our strongest traits, and we’re lucky for it – without it, suicides would be as common as the flu.
We have the innate ability to derive meaning from seemingly negative, heartbreaking, and disastrous events, and use that meaning to arrive at a place of peace. One could argue that this ability is what makes us human – what differentiates us from the lion and the hyena and the fruit fly.
When psychologist Daniel Gilbert authored “Stumbling on Happiness,” he theorized that we actually cannot predict what will make our future selves happy (he was right). We argued that even the seemingly insurmountable situations can be the actual circumstances to lead us to the personal happiness we always wanted.
The question begs to be asked, though: does suffering and struggle (eventually) make us happier because we have naturally evolved enough to find goodness in the bad? Or is it a case of forcing ourselves to see the light?
The archetype of the “tortured artist,” made famous by Picasso, Michelangelo, and countless others, is characterized by the artist using his anguish and existential angst to create more compelling art.
Perhaps, we all tap into a similar side of ourselves, even if its not for the sake of selling portraits. We need suffering. It serves a very important purpose – the maturity of self.
Because when we suffer, we ruminate on that suffering, and find little specks of light shining deep inside. Noticing that light only serves to enlarge it, and we cultivate gratitude, love and compassion from it. All of which would be impossible to do without the discomfort that suffering brings.
If we rode the wave, and racked up success after success with no failures or doubts whatsoever, we’d become emotionally stagnant. We’d develop a severe fear of any sort of discomfort or deviation from what we think is “perfect.” We’d end up having more problems adjusting to failure than our broken but ultimately emotionally mature counterparts.
So, through the losses, the broken hearts, and the betrayals lies wonderful lessons that we can – and must – use to construct the lives that are most genuinely ours.
All we have to do is be perceptive enough to look beneath the surface.