It’s often said that the reason we need to go through difficult times in life is so that we are more able to appreciate the good times.
At face value, this is kind of a nice way to understand suffering. After all, we more easily recognize light when we see it in comparison with darkness, don’t we? Similarly, falling on hard times in life can definitely stop us and make us more appreciative of those times we often take for granted.
However, I think if your understanding of suffering simply stops here, you’re going to run into some problems.
We don’t always need something bad to happen to point out to us how good we currently have it. Sometimes we already know—and fully appreciate—all of the wonderful things in our life. What purpose does suffering serve then? …To make us really really appreciate what we had?
Sometimes bad things happen and they make us more appreciative of the good. Sometimes they teach us something about ourselves, or about someone else, that we never knew, and wouldn’t have known otherwise. Other times, years can go by (maybe even a lifetime), and we still have no real clue what purpose was served by our suffering.
The truth is that suffering is a part of everyone’s life. It’s not the fruition of some sort of bad karma sown at an earlier time; it’s a part of being human—and a necessary part at that.
There is a fine line between recognizing and embracing suffering as a necessary part of life, and using it simply as litmus test to tell the difference between good times and bad times. The good is good no matter how much we suffer. Suffering is suffering no matter how good (or bad) our life may be. To say anything else cheapens the true meaning of both suffering and life itself.
Regardless of the apparent reason for it (or lack thereof), suffering is something we are supposed to embrace because the measure of our life is not simply the sum of all of our good times. Rather, the meaning of all of the events in our lives—the good taken with the bad— can only be understood as one, complete picture. We play a role in shaping how the picture turns out, but nothing happens on accident. The hard times, just as important as the good times, are used to paint the picture of a beautiful life.