In my recent Infographic: 20 Ways to Practice Gratitude, I spoke of finding value, meaning and purpose out of suffering as a gratitude practice.
Throughout history, there have been many inspirational people who have shown us that even through unimaginable suffering and tragedy in life; it is possible to find value, meaning and purpose out of major life crises. They provide hope – in times of despair – that it is not only possible to merely survive, but to thrive and triumph in life.
Nelson Mandela was a perfect example of someone who was able to do this. He turned his suffering into hope. His attitude was one of optimism, even in the face of extreme adversity. He declared,
“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lies defeat and death.”
In Man’s Search for Meaning, holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl writes,
“The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity — even under the most difficult circumstances — to add a deeper meaning to his life.”
To find value, meaning and purpose out of life’s difficulties and to turn tragedy into a triumph, we are required to become present to life and to reach some level of acceptance of ‘what is’.
But why on earth would we want to do that? It feels scary and painful – so we get busy trying to avoid, sweep under the rug, numb, eradicate, check-out from, quick-fix, medicalize and medicate our crises and resulting symptoms. In doing so, we miss the opportunity to find the value, meaning and purpose hidden within our anxieties, addictions, depressions, eating problems and physical illnesses.
It’s not about suffering unnecessarily. Frankl clearly states, ‘to suffer unnecessarily is masochistic rather than heroic.’ Rather, it is about holding the context that every crisis contains within it the seeds for transformation and growth. And…ultimately, we have the ability to choose our attitude in any given set of circumstances even if at first, it doesn’t appear so (Frankl 1947).
PHOTO CREDIT: CANSTOCK
Jodie Gale is a leading specialist in women’s emotional, psychological and spiritual health and well-being. She is a therapeutic counsellor, life-coach and psychotherapist practising in Manly and Allambie Heights on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, Australia.