Wednesday, 15 May 2013

How to suffer less and live a happier life

When we’re in pain, we tend to focus on what it is that’s making us suffer, which perpetuates more suffering. Yet, by simply shifting our focus, we could lessen our pain and be happier human beings. 
By: Nila Sweeney


My favourite yoga teacher told us an interesting story the other day about this famous guru who trained among the monks. Every night, they will wake up at around midnight to meditate until sunrise. At some point this guru complained to the head monk that his left foot is getting too sore, by which the head monk responded: “Focus on the other foot, the one that’s not hurting.”

How elegantly simple, yet, effective when we take this advice to heart! How often do we focus on what’s not working in our lives, ignoring those bits that are? If you’re like me, pretty much all the time!

It’s messed up, I know. For example on a physical level, when we have a headache, we take it for granted that our legs, our senses and our heart are still functioning perfectly. We get so caught up with the pain or sensation of having a headache that we become miserable, as though nothing is working in our lives.

We also tend to focus on our “flaws”. My butt is too big; my arms too flabby, my thighs too thick or my breast are too small or saggy. We conveniently ignore the fact that our “big” butt bears the weight of our body, our “flabby” arms enable us to do things like eat or type in our laptops and our “thick” thighs take us places.

Applying this to the different areas of our lives such as family, finances, relationships or work, we can see how easily we become despondent with every bump that comes our way.

Focusing on what’s working in our lives does not mean ignoring or even pretending the pain is not there. It’s acknowledging both the suffering and the good fortune that we currently enjoy.

I know it’s not easy to be happy when you have a toothache or a splitting headache or just been separated from the love of your life. However, our misery would be so much worse if we nurture this feeling of suffering instead of looking for the things that are actually not “broken” in our lives.

So how do we focus on the “other foot”? Here are some of my thoughts and own techniques on how we can apply this to every aspect of our lives.

Health
When you’re suffering physically, acknowledge the pain and see if there’s something you can do to eliminate or at least lessen the suffering. If there is, then there is no need to compound your suffering by worrying about it. If there isn’t, the more reason for you not to worry.

Appreciate the fact that other parts of your body are still functioning perfectly.
You still have your eyes that can see the blue sky, the beautiful faces of the people you love and the redness of a rose. Be thankful that you have a pair of lovely lips that bring smiles, ears that can hear your love ones’ laughter and a heart that works tirelessly to support your life.

Family
When one of our family members is not in a good space, we tend to focus solely our attention to “fixing” them and making them better, while ignoring the other members who are in better shape. We tend to devout almost all our time getting this family member back on track. In the meantime, the other people in our lives are not getting much attention from us. We rationalise that they don’t need us as much as this suffering member does.

In a way, this is true. However, this creates more pain in the long run as animosity and resentment arise instead of compassion towards the suffering member.

Acknowledge the other members and let them know through your words and deeds that they matter as much as the suffering member. Tell them that they are important to you and show your appreciation by spending as much quality time and attention to them, as you can possibly can.

Finances
When it comes to finances, we tend to focus on what we don’t have rather than what we have. We get jealous when we see others earning more money and accumulating more material stuff than us. This drives us to pursue money endlessly and in the process sacrificing other aspects of our lives. Time and time again, this is proven to end in more suffering.

Instead, focus on what you already have. Are you earning enough to support yourself or your family? Do you have enough financial resources to do as much of the things you want to do and still help others in the process?

Then you already have more than enough to live a happy life. Giving up the feeling of “not having enough” will give way to contentment and peace of mind. Just look at how some people continue to struggle no matter how much money they make.

It’s not about how much you have but how you make what you have enough for you right now.

If you want to bring in more money, sure, go for it. But do it for the right reason. Do it because you enjoy doing what you do. When you do things out of love, you’ll sure to see good fortune flows through your life.

Relationships
Bringing in focus to the things that are working in our relationship rather than those that are not undoubtedly results in happier, juicier and more satisfying relationships.

As humans we tend to focus on the negative aspects of our relationships, making it less satisfying and fulfilling than it can be.

Focusing on your partner’s “annoying” habits for example will diminish his importance in your eyes. You would get fixated with this habit that everything you do would be coloured by your secret or not so secret disdain. Meanwhile, you’d overlook his or her redeeming qualities. You’d take for granted all the other things you love about this person. As you can imagine, a relationship built on this premise can’t grow and flourish. 

It’s not about putting up with abusive relationship. It’s about accepting the small quirks that all of us have.

Work
Yes, we all have things we don’t like about our work. We don’t like our boss, we dislike having to travel far for work or we simply don’t like parts of our work.

Guess what this makes and leaves us? You got it! Unhappy and dissatisfied. Many of us would focus on the things we perceive as making us suffer. We get more and more frustrated and unhappy because the things we don’t like get magnified. It’s true, the more we focus on the things that we don’t like, the worse they become. They become real, even if we were just imagining them at the start.

If you are employed, there are things that are out of your control. Obviously you have no control of who your boss is going to be, where your work is located and other decisions that are made by your company that impacts your work and life.

What can you do? Lots. Instead of focusing and complaining about how things are not working, look at ways to eliminate if not reduce these things. If you can’t and you’re increasingly unhappy, you do have the option to leave and look for other employment.

The point is, there may be aspects of your job that you enjoy, such as the friendships you built over time, the flexibility, the autonomy or simply the fact that you are making a difference to others.

It’s easy to ignore all these positive aspects of life when we’re too focused on the painful experiences we’re suffering. Focusing on the good fortune that we have, with our health, finances, families, relationships and work goes a long way to making us happier and more satisfied human being.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this post.

You may also want to read How to Bounce Back from Failure.