The Difference Between Pain and Suffering I have a somewhat regular conversation with my kids about the difference between pain and suffering. Despite my efforts at applying and reapplying sunscreen, they’ve both gotten burnt on their shoulders once. They’ve scraped knees, stepped on sharp objects, and taken hard hits from the balls they use in their respective sports. They’ve also spent money on items they regret, trusted friends they knew they shouldn’t, and said some things they’ve wished they could take back. In short, they’ve experienced pain. Pain, in life, is inevitable. We’re always going to have times where we forget to do what is good for us, trip and fall, simply make mistakes or get hurt by someone else. That is a part of the human experience and much of it seems fairly unavoidable. My argument with the kids is that while pain may unavoidable suffering is not. If they get bonked on the head with the ball in a game it hurts but they’ve got the game to play and that’s fun, so they quickly shift their attention away from the tender spot on their noggin. If they get bonked on the head doing chores well then it is the worst thing ever and suddenly the pain completely incapacitates them and the wailing hurts the ears of every dog within a 5 mile radius as they crumple to the ground in agony…so surely they cannot be expected to continue their chores, right? Right?! ;) While it’s really not that dramatic, they do seem to feel the pain much sharper and for much longer depending on their state of mind when they’ve hurt themselves doing something they didn’t enjoy doing in the first place. As adults our pain is much more complicated and layered and convoluted with other emotions and experiences. I contend, however, that we still, by a large measure, have a choice in whether or not we suffer from the pain we experience in life. If we take a losing trade, for instance, that hurts. But if we love trading and we know we followed our plan we can easily move on. What happens when we don’t follow our rules, though, and take a massive loss as a result? Or what if we got impulsive and didn’t have a plan at all and we’ve been doing that repeatedly and just can’t seem to change our habit? Then we not only feel the pain of the loss, but we also beat ourselves up over it – and for how long? Suffering ensues. Does it have to be a natural extension of the pain to suffer? I would go so far as to say that the suffering is pointless. We don’t learn anything from it and we merely prolong our agony, which changes our habits, which changes our belief systems, which changes our thoughts, which changes our interactions with the world and more likely in a direction that will create more pain and then more suffering and then we’ve created a vicious cycle that is feels impossible to break. I’m the first to admit that there are varying levels of pain, both literal and figurative types and I’m certainly not trying to discount how deeply certain events/mistakes can hurt us; however, once the actual pain is gone I do believe we have a choice about whether or not we suffer. As difficult as it is sometimes to redirect my emotions, I’d still rather not suffer. I don’t grow from that. I’d rather dissect my experience and see what I can do differently next time and put a plan in place to do it. It may not be the right plan and I may get hurt again, but at least I’m moving forward. I’m also empowered from my experience, rather than suffering from my foible. What about you? Do you see a difference between the two? Do you think it is always a choice or do you think there are exceptions? Do you ever find yourself making the choice? How do you deal with it?