Pain is Inevitable; Suffering is Optional

By Anthony Gold

A young woman attends a matinee with her father. It’s a special occasion. They don’t get to spend much private time with one another, and a chance to watch a movie they’ve been dying to see is treasured by both.

The theatre is nearly empty given the time of day – so they get to pick any seats they want. Halfway up, middle of the row. Perfect.

The previews wrap up, popcorn bucket is nearly full, and the feature begins. She’s never been happier.

Forty-five minutes in, and she hates the movie. The plot is too predictable and unbelievable. Worse, the characters one-dimensional with a flimsy script. Another hour and a half of this?

And then the most surprising thing occurs.

Her father stands up, takes her by the hand, and says “Let’s go.”

“We can just leave?”

“Yep – we bought these tickets. We’re not obligated to stay. We can choose how we want to spend our time.”

That experience changed my friend’s life forever. She had the powerful realization – at such a young age – that we can choose the purpose, or meaning, we give everything.

The purpose of the purchased tickets wasn’t to watch the movie but rather to spend quality time together. A shift in purpose led to a shift in perception – which in turn led to a much more enjoyable afternoon.

And so it is that we give every situation we experience all the meaning it has for us.

We often believe that the situation itself objectively contains the meaning. If we aren’t feeling great, we are quick to blame externals: our body, other people, the state of our finances, events in the news, certain elected (or nominated) officials, and so on.

But what we miss is that none of those things are responsible for how we feel – which is directly correlated with the meaning we give every experience. Rather, we first choose the meaning, and then our feelings instantly manifest from there.

While we may not be responsible for what other people do (or say) to us, we are completely responsible for the meaning we give it – which in turn directly leads to how we feel. So, if we aren’t happy – we have no one but ourselves to thank.

Of course, the corollary to that is if we want to be happy, we simply need to change the meaning we give each situation we find ourselves in. An amazingly peaceful day awaits but our choice for joy instead of suffering.

Join us in Monday’s class where we’ll explore in greater detail how we give things meaning – and learn ways to make the choice for happiness. I look forward to seeing you then.

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