Try and imagine a world without pain.
It’s hard to picture such a reality, yet it has held our attention for ages. A world without suffering might seem similar to the concept of heaven initially- but the harder you look and the longer you imagine it, it starts to become a kind of hell.
Nobody likes to suffer, but it is essential to recognise that suffering is necessary for humans to achieve any kind of happiness or comfort. After all, if you don’t know what hunger feels like, there is no way for you to recognise when you feel satisfied after a filling meal. Likewise, if you have never been the subject of hate, you can never know and appreciate love or kindness when you get it.
Though society cannot be completely problem-free, when we solve a problem a new one always has, and always will arise. Let’s say that by some mysterious force, we succeeded in removing all human suffering from society and our personal lives. Would we be satisfied then? Would we finally live in peace and respect? Would we be happy?
To answer these questions, let’s take one of the most popular books and one of my all-time favourites: The Giver.
In this acclaimed novel, Jonas (the protagonist) lives in a dystopian future in which humanity has succeeded in its effort to forget all suffering. This ‘utopian’ society has managed to eradicate poverty, hunger, inequality, racism, hate and all the other major world problems we face today. However, as an unintended consequence, he lives in a society with no competition, achievement, colour, freedom or love.
To rid the society of problems and sufferings like those previously mentioned, they had to make a few trade-offs. For example – to eliminate the wealth gap between rich and poor, they made it such that everyone had the same possessions and access to the same services. This society has no poor, but also no rich – and due to the fact of there being no money and no possessions for one to desire, there is no material happiness. Additionally, because of this change, the motivation to innovate and advance is significantly reduced.
To free this society of any discrimination by beauty or colour, it has no factor to discriminate anything! In this black-and-white world, everyone wears the same clothes, so there is no social hierarchy because of anyone’s features. To prevent any unpleasant scenery or anything that doesn’t “look” good and would, therefore, bring about negative feelings of distaste – this society has no colours! Although there is nothing ugly there, there is nothing beautiful for the people to enjoy!
If you read the Giver, I’m sure you would be able to find many such instances where their society had to compromise certain pleasures to eliminate some pain. I think, and I’m sure you would agree, that a ‘utopian’ society similar to the one Jonas lives in does not live with pain, but neither do they live with pleasure.
Today, everything we know in our lives comes with two sides, and although our world houses an enormous amount of hurt, we also know how to appreciate the simple pleasures of life when we experience them. While nobody wants to suffer, we need to recognise that it is an essential component of our lives.
Like almost anything in today’s world, pleasure and pain are relative to each other, the amount of pain one has suffered is key to how much he would appreciate and enjoy any desire given to him.
Pain and suffering are the only things that can ever enable us to live a ‘happy’ life. In Viktor Frankel’s book “Man’s search for meaning” he describes suffering as a potential springboard for having a need for meaning and finding it.
So think about this – do you want to live in a predictable, yet stable world in which you will never be unhappy, but also never be happy? Or do you want to live in a world where you will suffer, a lot, but also know how to prosper?