We experience suffering or dissatisfaction when we lack something that we feel entitled to.
“How can I be happy without love? Or without children?”, a girl might say to herself, justifying the internal chaos she feels in her relentless pursuit of a man.
“How can I be satisfied without material things, such as a car or a house?” wonders the man who saves every penny as his credit card bills go up.
This inner turmoil is commonplace and doesn’t require much elaboration. In theory, this kind of dissatisfaction can actually provide the necessary motivation for development and reaching the next level. But equally, it might not; that depends on the person.
What is interesting, however, is: what happens when that same girl does get married? Or when that man finally acquires the material things he coveted? Are they then happy?
Why do many people who have achieved their goals still not feel completely satisfied? What are they missing? And how is it that others can be happy even without these important components in their lives?
What is the secret of happy singletons? Are they faking it? Do they not understand how life works? Are they stupid? Did they miss that memo on the meaning of life – do they not realize that people can’t be happy without a partner?
Let me be clear: I’m not saying these people don’t want to meet their soul mate and maybe start a family; I’m saying that they are happy even though they haven’t met “the one” yet. Yes, my friends, it is possible – this is what it means to be psychologically healthy.
And what about more consumerist desires? Is it a case of just food, sex, cars, money? Or do these people desire love as well? Why do some appear to have it all, yet still experience internal disharmony? And how is it that some don’t seem to suffer, even without the things they wish for? Once again, this doesn’t mean they’re not striving for what they want, but rather that they don’t feel upset about what is not yet part of their life.
In the section of my website entitled Reader’s Questions, there is a continuous flow of letters from readers. It was so fascinating that I had to take a couple of screen shots.
Directly beneath the question: “I’m 30, I’ve always been single, how do I find a boyfriend?’’ comes the question: “I’m married with 2 kids, everything’s going well, but I have no time for personal development and self-exploration; I don’t like my job but it’s too late to change – what should I do?’’
And sure, I wouldn’t mention it if it happened just once or twice – but it happens all the time. For every “I’m unhappy because I don’t have a family” there’s a “I have a lovely family but I’m still unhappy – please help.”
Why does this happen?
I can assure you it’s no coincidence.
This is the moment when you need to remove the blinkers from your eyes and see the patterns in various people‘s situations (as opposed to ignoring reality by telling yourself that you’re special and things will be different for you): happiness doesn’t come from marriage or material things. Many people continue to suffer even when they’ve fulfilled their deepest desires.
So where does happiness come from then?
I also used to justify my suffering with whatever vital component was missing from my life at the time – it makes sense to suffer when you don’t have the means to realize your plans or your passion, or so I thought. But thankfully I found the courage to admit that there were periods where I achieved everything I had been striving for: wonderful interpersonal relationships, a job I loved at the time, enough money, good health and travel opportunities. And yet, I was never satisfied. Everything was fine – literally everything – but something continued to niggle inside. After the initial euphoria of fulfilling my needs, the sense of dissatisfaction came creeping back.
It made no sense because I had literally no reason to suffer.
At that time, years ago, I tried to ignore this feeling and tell myself it was just my imagination. Today I have a better understanding and am able to define precisely what satisfaction is and how to live without suffering – even when the issues you are facing are far from being resolved.
I can confidently claim that life without suffering is possible. This is life in its most natural state.
You do not experience suffering at any point when you are consciously working towards something and giving it your all. What’s more, it doesn’t even matter what stage you are at.
If you’re heading in the direction of your objectives at the right pace, fully unlocking your talents and abilities, then there is no room inside for suffering, and it all transforms into pleasure instead.
You might be starting from scratch in every aspect of your life, but by working towards the realization of your goals, and, most importantly, doing so consciously, you can feel happy and at peace right now.
If you’re overweight, but you’ve changed your diet and started regular exercise with absolute efficiency, you will feel better immediately, even if it may take a while to see the change in your physique.
Same goes for relationships, money, work and anything else. The key is: do your very best in your chosen direction and you will no longer suffer.
The reverse is true too:
No matter how much you’ve succeeded or accomplished already, if you move through life at a slower pace than your potential allows you will not rid yourself of suffering. Moreover, the more you’ve accomplished the worse your inner turmoil will be. You’ll look at others who are happier with less than you have, and you’ll try to persuade yourself to take it easy and lower your expectations, but the feeling won’t go away.
Unrealized potential causes pain.
If you’re a lion working at Moscow Zoo, an antelope living in a one-bedroom apartment; an eagle trapped in a cage, or a deep-sea fish stranded on the shore – you are bound to feel inner disharmony. With or without everything society expects from you in terms of family, recreation and basic comforts.
If you’re a deep-sea fish, your essential need is to reach the depth that feels natural to you. Once there, you will not suffer, because you will find yourself among kindred spirits who have the answers to your questions. No one knows how long this plunge will take you and whether you have the necessary strength, but one thing is certain: if you’re really interested in reaching a serious depth, it’ll take more than just a couple of years. I can tell you from my own experience: strength arises as needed, and it’s all worth it.
Yes, each of us has different talents and inclinations, and various sources of potential (our task being to increase this) but one thing is the same for everybody: if you are suffering, especially with feelings of inadequacy, then you’re not investing enough of yourself in this life (in all aspects). This means you are capable of more.
To be more specific, the average person doesn’t achieve even 25% of what they are naturally capable of.
How do I stop suffering?
1. Do the maximum possible at every stage
In order to stop suffering, you need to spend your energy, not conserve it. Show your talents instead of shying behind others. Demand more for your investments rather than being satisfied with less. Take any expert in their field, especially at an international level, as an example. They may take a lot but they give out even more, never stopping, continuously striving for perfection. And they might even have a family and kids as well. The same is true of both men and women.
I remember myself, when I was ready to leave the islands, I was shocked to discover that not one of the people who inspired me, whether in art, literature, or business – not one of these people from my list of personal heroes lives on an island in Asia. Why? Maybe their many accolades don’t give them the opportunity to do so? Are they oblivious to the possibility, or lack the mental strength to stop being a workaholic and just relax? The point is that weakness does not make masters, but it often makes people move to islands in Southeast Asia… (although there are, of course, exceptions). High-achievers are all, without exception, deep-sea fish, whose main objective is to generate maximum output with a vital zest for the here and now.
2. Look your pain straight in the eye
The natural way to improve you inner capacity (read: “Taking the plunge’’) is to work through your suffering. Don’t run away screaming “this isn’t for me’’, don’t hide behind those around you, don’t read pretentious books – just look your suffering straight in the eye, shake its hand and continue on your chosen way at the appropriate speed. As a rule, your pain will be offended and will quickly move on.
As long as you run away from your pain, it will always be nipping at your heels. It’s better to approach it and discover that it simply doesn’t exist. Any martial arts experts will tell you the same thing.
Most people’s weakness tends to lie in a fear of pain, and those who can master this fear can progress a little faster than the rest, and of course, suffer less. As 95% of people dread the idea of pain, their aspirations take a back seat, they remain alone, safe within limits of their comfort zone, and greet suffering as an equal.
3. Set clear goals
Maximum speed and output requires a precise framework. It’s hard to maintain any momentum if your direction lacks definition. Establish concrete goals for every section of your path – whether it’s a 5-year plan or just for this week. Do everything within your power to reach these goals so that you won’t even think about suffering.
Your aims are just marks along the way, not the path itself. You can change them edit them, or add to them. They are not the main event here, but rather they create a framework for right now, allowing you to recognize your evolving limits, adjusting them accordingly.
For example, do you currently have any clearly-defined goals for the week ahead?
If the answer is ‘no’, then how can we possibly begin to address your mission in life? It’s still too early for this. To start with, focus your attention on the current year, month and then week, which will naturally bring you to the here and now of your life; i.e. your goals now and later in life. Your mission in life is Everest, and if you’ve never been hiking in the mountains before, you’ll struggle to reach the highest peak right away. Even if you’re a seasoned hiker, it is not easy. Your true mission is something you reach after years of living in self-awareness, devoting all your efforts to do so.
Suffering comes when we don’t apply our natural charge to the right course. As a matter of fact, if we don’t keep moving in every sense, we begin to rust. But neither will irregular movement reap the desired results. Our goals (that is, any sensible and gratifying goals) allow us to experience communion with the world. I’m giving something to the world; the world is giving me something in exchange. I’m not just taking, I’m giving back just as much. The circle is complete and suffering is eliminated.