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The right question to ask yourself when life gets tough is…

Do you wonder 'when will my suffering end' when things get hard? That, however, is not the right question to be asking when life challenges you.

A man thinking about why must we suffer in life
PC: Kazi Mizan; Unsplash

As you long as we live, we will desire. And as long as we desire, we will suffer. As Buddha said:

Desire is the seed of suffering.

But there isn’t a way to live if we actively give up desiring unless we chose to walk the path of monkhood which too must entail some sort of desires (such as to realise one’s Buddha).



A leaf full of life on one side and beginning to rot on the other
Life carries within it the seed for both suffering and joy Picture Ⓒ: Deepti Malhotra

As a personal coach, I meet people suffering from anger, anxiety, stress, fear, confusion, helplessness or a similar emotion all the time but if that wasn’t enough I am deeply aware that I suffer from all of these emotions from time to time as well. And when we suffer, the first and the most prominent question on our mind is:

When will this end?

We’re just getting through the fourth month of 2021 but this year has been tougher on me than all of 2020 was. I faced challenges that I was completely unprepared for and all of them reinforced one lesson in me:

We suffer endlessly only when we are unable to find meaning in our suffering. However, the beautiful thing about being human is that we are capable of finding an answer to the question ‘why am I suffering’ irrespective of what happens and once found, its knowledge changes us from the inside and becomes a catalyst for our growth.

I believe it is also possible to find gratitude for our suffering once we stop hating, resisting, fearing or running away from it.

In other words, we cannot control what happens to us but the one thing always within our control is the perspective we choose to look at life with. If we can colour our perspective with gratitude, our suffering does not last and we come out on the other side feeling humbled and grateful for it all.



A girl reading a book in a balcony and pondering about life
We're capable of finding an answer to the question 'Why am I suffering?' PC: Pragati Malhotra

This year I made yet another mistake that I could have never imagined myself making, that’s how proud and sure I was of myself.

This year as I continued taking steps in a new direction of life, I found myself feeling entitled to success and independence I have long longed for only to be humbled in a deeply personal and scarring way.

In both cases, the pain that ripped through my body and mind was immense. At first, it was too much to wrap my head around. It left me feeling helpless, lost and scared but as time passed and some of my strength returned, I sat and wondered -

‘Why did I need to go through this?’

I like to ask myself this question not out of pity but out of a genuine desire to understand what life wants me to learn.

And life answered at both times like a mother who envelops her crying child in her arms so that they feel protected and loved.

My growth in the future can only come from the lessons I take from my present. If I detest it, run away from it and wish it never happened, there will be nothing to learn from. But if I look for something to be grateful for in my suffering, I will find it because we all find what we seek (when our desire is honest).

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A friend developed symptoms of Covid. While he got tested immediately and isolated himself, the results took a while to come due to the rush of people getting tested in my city. While he rested and waited, his throat began to hurt unbearably.

He called up the lab more than a few times so he could begin the right treatment but either no one picked up the customer care number or he was told his report wasn’t ready.

Two days later, he woke up in the morning with an aching throat to find the report sent to him on WhatsApp but was unable to download it due to an error. He called up the lab to request for it be sent again.

To his surprise, he found on the other end a super friendly customer service executive. Unlike most who speak like tape recorders, this executive’s style was casual and chatty. When he found out that my friend couldn’t download the report, he asked him to wait while he looked it up on his system.

Then came a response, “Sir, aap toh covid positive hai (translation: you are positive),” followed by laughter. From the background, his colleague teased him, “Badha khush ho kar bata raha hai (translation: didn't you sound too happy while giving him the news)?”

When my friend recounted the anecdote to me, I laughed and said to him, “Do you realise you’re the kinda person who is capable of doing this to someone else aka laughing loudly while giving someone a solemn piece of news?”

He concurred and we both shared a hearty laugh.

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Life is going to be hard, more than a few times. Suffering is an integral part of life and we cannot escape it however good a human being we may be.

Instead of blaming your destiny or other people or letting it make you miserable, look for meaning in your suffering. Rather than wondering ‘when will this end,’ the right question to ask is ‘why am I suffering’ with a sincere intention to learn from it. When you are humble and accepting of what life gives you (the good, bad and ugly), the journey becomes easier, more enjoyable and kinder to you.

And if you’re the sort, finding humour in your life’s events is also an acceptable and wonderful way to put things in perspective as opposed to believing you suffered for no reason at all.