Life is Suffering

There’s a much misunderstood but oft quoted Hindu/Buddhist tenet that life is suffering.

At its surface, life is suffering appears terribly pessimistic. Most people are encouraged to view life optimistically. We’re told life is primarily good, a mostly smooth road of joys with a few potholes of adversity along the way.

But there’s a lot of pressure in viewing life as perpetually positive. Who is truly happy all the time? It’s exhausting.

And have you ever met someone who says they’re always happy? There’s something that rings false, that feels like a carefully constructed facade about them. The happiness feels shallow and forced.

What if, what if, we viewed life as an endless grind punctuated by potholes of great joy? Isn’t that what Shakespeare’s Hamlet alluded to in his To be, or not to be soliloquy?

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life. (3.1.56-69)


Shakespeare practically screams at us that we’re all in a constant state of misery, that this is our lot as human beings: “… and by a sleep to say we end the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to…”


“But if we accept that we’re all going to sink into a giant well of depression, Asha.”


Yeah, but we’re not. Mr. Rogers said:

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping. — Fred Rogers

His mother (and in turn, he) understood that disasters were always going to be a part of life, there was always going to be something distressing, hateful, upsetting, damaging going on. They realised in the core of their beings that this would be our overwhelming reality. And they also knew that looking for the helpers, the bringers of joy, the moments of faith in humanity or a higher power were what would get us all through the difficult times.

Instead of expecting joy at every turn, what if, when we landed in a pothole of joy we revelled in it, knowing that it’s fleeting and so should be clung to?

This entry is for YeahWrite’s Nonfiction grid #386. Click the link (below) to read other entries. Don’t forget to comment and vote too!


6 Comments on “Life is Suffering”

  1. Oh Asha, today feels just like this. I can’t say you cheered me up, but it does feel right. Btw, I think life is cyclical. When it’s good you know the bad is coming, and when it’s bad, good could be right around the corner. So you’re right in that way, to savor the good.

  2. Okay, I want to share why I love this. I ponder death, the afterlife, and what happens to our spirit when we are no longer in our bodies. I don’t think of this story as depressing in the least. It makes me think of awakening, or a new life. What Dreams May Come, is the title of one of my favorite old movies. I didn’t make the connection between the title of the movie, and Shakespeare. It was for me, a deeply profound movie, but I couldn’t connect the dots on how it made me feel, given it was a tragic story. You just connected the dots. Beautifully.

  3. Such a beautifully stated sentiment, Asha! I absolutely agree. The bad makes the good so much sweeter. The danger when you look at life through an optimistic lens, you tend to see the past through rose-coloured glasses. We should own the bad, because when life is good, it’s great.

  4. Beautifully expressed. We saw a lot of that after the Kerala floods, specially for our positive news blog hop We are the World (WATWB) where we focus on the people helping. Really enjoyed your essay Asha.

%d bloggers like this: