Pain is inevitable in life. It is arguably the reason we know that we are alive. When we are asleep and unaware of any pain, hours go by in a twinkle of an eye.
We can say that the complete absence of pain is death (because dead things don’t feel). Perhaps, it is this knowledge that provides a sort of strange relief and comfort when someone dies. Especially if they were in immense pain.
Pain comes in different forms and affects us in different ways. It can be physical as in bruises and cuts. Or emotional as in verbal abuse. However, all the forms of pain are uncomfortable or distressing. We wish they were all gone. Or, at least, reduced.
This piece doesn’t attempt to analyse what pain is, but rather how to know when to evade, endure, or seek pain.
To find out, I posed a question to the Pawns Community:
“Do you think there is any good in pain?
“Do you think it is good to endure pain?
I ask because about this time last year, I wore a tightly fitted shoe.
It discomforted me a bit.
But, I said to myself that I could endure (because the pain wasn’t excruciating).
However, the shoe spoiled my toenails. Afterwhich it took a full year to recover my pretty toenails.”
To which I got several answers:
David Ibanibo: “Yes. I’m not a masochist. But I think we should all find the right amount of pain to, as you say, endure. It depends on what life throws at you. After that, it’s about constant self-thought and awareness.”
However, Dick Daniel gave a robust framework.
He argued that the value of pain is largely contextual. And based on the individual’s interpretation of it.
To explain, he categorised the pain we experience in life into three:
- Needless pain
- Needful pain, and
- Pain as a form of stake
Note: The explanations came largely from the Pawns Community. I am not the generator of these ideas. But only a reporter. This is to say, I pulled in the insight of other commenters/contributors. Also, I added my views and edits to achieve a concise yet well-rounded explanation of the nature and value (or lack thereof) of the different types of pain.
Let’s dive in
1. Needless or fruitless pain:
These are often part of the vicissitudes of life. They may be random and naturally occurring. We, someone else, or something else may be responsible for this pain. In many cases, they either produce no positive outcome. Or the price for enduring them supersedes the reward.
A popular hymn reads, “Oh what needless pain we bear…”
If you endure mosquito bites, sooner or later you will fall ill. And the pain will grow with no inherent benefits.
Sticking with a toxic/abusive partner, just like I wore the tightly fitted shoes ranks high in this category.
Other examples include:
- Sticking around to finish a horrible movie because you paid for it.
- Overeating because you bought or made the food and don’t want it to go to waste.
- Sitting till the end of an awful event because you paid for a seat.
- Trekking/driving a long distance to return a spoilt loaf of bread, biscuit, or any very inexpensive commodity that is not worth your time and energy.
- (add yours…)
Pain without purpose is the most painful because it yields only more pain (the longer it lasts).
You don’t have to keep suffering because you made a mistake. The first pain has befallen you. You do not need to perpetuate it by enduring.
However, some “needless pains” are not easy to avoid or do away with. Some are imposed upon us. For example, coming from a dysfunctional or toxic home. It may be a pain you cannot easily eschew. In such cases, you are advised to strive to become independent as soon as possible.
Any pain that produces no meaningful outcome should not be endured.
2. Needful or Fruitful Pain:
The Bible speaks about Jesus saying, “For the PRIZE that was set before Him, He ENDURED the cross…”
Likewise, the pain of lifting weights in a gym is totally worth it. Considering the amazing body you will get in the end.
The pain to end a toxic relationship will be worth it. When you think of the resulting relief. Plus the freedom and opportunities you will have afterward.
The pain in childbearing ranks high in this category as well. Because although the pain is excruciating, the reward is usually beyond words.
Sometimes, you have to choose pain. And prepare to endure it till it passes.
I guess this is the reason women seek to have another baby. Even after going through hell in the labour room. 😉
Other examples include:
- Reading. (Maybe for a test or your personal development.)
- Learning a new skill
- Grooming yourself
- Telling the truth. (Especially when it is uncomfortable and even costly.)
- Paying back a debt
- Buying a nice bed, or mosquito net for your windows
- (add yours…)
Sometimes, we reject such fruitful but sharp pain. As a result, we experience a milder but costlier long-stretched pain…
For example, the cost of enduring a toxic relationship for years is tremendous. But it comes in small doses. Small enough to kill or make one utterly miserable in about a decade or so.
A member of the Pawns community shared an interesting story about seeking pain.
Nwachukwu Favour: “When it was my due date for delivery, labor was not coming forth. Then my roommate was having a menstrual cramp. She was crying. I told her that the pain she is going through is what I am praying for (so my baby can come forth). I was praying for real pain because I knew that the more I felt the pain of the contraction, the closer I was to experience the joy of delivery.”
When the benefit or outcome is bigger than the pain, it is wise to seek it. This kind of pain can sometimes even feel good.
3. Pain as a Form of Stake:
This is where it gets tricky. And perception is very important here.
Some people endure much pain with the hope of a desired outcome. When this fails, they say, “At least, I gave it a shot. The experience is worth it”. While others feel frustrated. They regret why they even tried.
Other examples include;
- When you put your house in order because you were expecting a guest. But they never show up.
- When a child dies
- When a business fails
- When no one laughs at your joke
- (add yours…)
The reward of this sort of pain is shrouded in uncertainty. However, this sort of pain is encouraged because they often improve the individual in some way.
Nihilists often complain of the pain and meaninglessness of life, without considering that “Life” itself is a huge gain on its own.
If you stay up all night for an exam, only for it to be shifted, you might still consider it a gain. But, when your farmland doesn’t do well after tiresome cultivation, it can be devastating. Perhaps, it is a huge blessing life is more like the former than the latter. So, stake higher in life.
Conclusion: Life Is Painful, Suffering Is Optional
All these remind me of Mr. Meeseeks from the “Rick and Morty” series.
He often says, “Existence is pain”. But within his often short life, he aims single-mindedly to achieve his goal at all costs. No matter how difficult it seems.
I suspect his name, “Meeseeks”, is a portmanteau of “Me” and “Seeks”. It highlights the importance of “seeking” what is important despite the pain woven into it. And, there is something about his smile (amid pain) that reminds me of Sisyphus who Albert Camus argues we must imagine is happy.
Back to my tightly fitted shoe.
I was hoping the pain would ease (as the shoe expands). But, it didn’t happen.
So, I guess another moral lesson is that it is not wise to hope for pain to lessen. Especially when it is within our power to stop it.
Don’t hope for the pain to disappear. They seldom do. You shouldn’t endure pain that has no benefit. Especially if it can be resolved.
Since pain is unavoidable, the most important thing becomes understanding the nature of the pain – Why is it happening? Who is triggering it? Who has the power to add to or remove it? What is it’s rewards? Then you decide what to do (or not do).
Alleviate pain as much as possible.
I enjoy writing long-form SEO content for self-help and personal development blogs. I can also do simple graphics design and copywriting. I’m an author, coach, logician, introvert, and storyteller. I love simplicity.