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Suffering and happiness

It was going to be a long and difficult night, I said to myself.

The clock ticked the seconds away in agony, and the night stretched itself a little longer than nature would have allowed. But no sooner had the front door flew open than we were all embraced and locked in each other’s arms.

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She was home, I thought. Our friend was back.

It would be a brief stay, but one that she needed. It turned out that we, her two guy best friends from home, needed it, too. There are many things that could suddenly bring three distant friends together again. That night, we were reunited because of one thing: We were all suffering.

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The human experience can be such a frightful thing. I forgot who said it, but I remember the line that said we are all but stories wrapped in parcels of flesh. And, boy, do we all have our stories to tell. Some stories reveal at which plot twist we got scarred, or at which turn we experienced our first loss, or when we put up a fight we knew we couldn’t win.

There is something about existing that comes hand in hand with the inevitability of suffering. Even the moral teachers, the mystics, the saints and the most divine haven’t been exempted. In fact, it seems like they also suffered the most even if they understood life best.

I can still remember my brush with soul-crunching, agonizing pain near the middle of this year. It was so intense that it crippled my productivity, and for me, my identity was in my productivity. But that season changed many things. I had to talk to myself to be able to put one foot in front of the other, and to finish one task ahead of the next.

The experience was poetic, though it would have been useful had I been a songwriter or a poet myself. I would have produced a masterpiece. Aren’t most masterpieces sprung from the depths of a suffering heart and soul? But I was a corporate worker in the new industrial revolution. I needed my senses together.

My friend, who rushed to get home that night to be with us, wasn’t able to do that. She blanked out at work and, as a result, had to take that much-needed break.

The day before, a high school friend handed in her shrink’s number. I promised to call, but I needed to attend to my friends first. It was a long night of embracing and trying to come to terms with all of our losses, from the most banal to the most alarming. Then a new day broke, our weary eyes caught some sleep, the tears were dried, and I never did call that shrink. I wish I would never need to. The dark cloud has lifted.

The next few days revealed to me people with their own versions of suffering, their own encounters with loss. I visited communities in rural areas to do a seminar, and in my interactions, I encountered smiles that were meant to hide the tumult in people’s lives. I observed the city while I was in transit, and saw how human beings have built buildings on rubble and have performed their duties often with broken hearts and spirits. The sales lady at the mall shared her recent heartbreak. The teenager at the coffee shop line talked about his anxieties. My dark cloud grew even tinier.

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The more stories I heard, the better I felt. I remember this German word: schadenfreude. It means experiencing pleasure over the troubles or failures of another. Was it that? I think not. Schadenfreude is pleasure at someone else’s expense, like laughing at someone tripping and falling down. What I felt was something else—a realization that we could apply our suffering to good use, to become more empathetic and understanding toward others.

The commonality of suffering tells us that we can use our experiences not only for our own purposes, but to help uplift others, too. There perhaps, and finally, is where happiness lies.

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