How Suffering Impacts Happiness

Lay people and various scholars have different opinions on the relationship between suffering and happiness. Some argue that suffering leads to increased happiness, while others say that the more suffering an individual goes through, the less happy they are. However, it cannot be argued with certainty who is correct and who is wrong, as long they support the claims with valid reasoning and evidence. David Brookes has written an article “What suffering does” and has given his reasons on how happiness and suffering relate. Likewise, McMahan et al. also have different opinions on the relationship between the two variables from an evidence-based study they conducted titled, “Some Implications of Believing That Happiness Involves the Absence of Pain.” Concerning the two articles, suffering can either impact happiness negatively or positively, depending on an individual’s belief.

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In his opinion, David Brookes says that happiness is formed through suffering (Brookes 25). He gives an example that when we talk of the past, we often speak of the negative things more than the positive things. The point implies that sometimes we are happy with the negative stuff because perhaps they impact the happiness we enjoy afterward. He also suggests that through suffering, people get the awareness of what other people are enduring. He connects this statement citing Franklin Roosevelt’s examples, who became more empathetic to the public as a president after being struck by polio. Through these examples, he tried to show how happiness and suffering are connected. Brookes gives valid reasons as to why suffering leads to happiness through different ways explained in the following paragraphs.

Firstly, he argues that suffering brings an individual deeper into themselves. Through suffering, people understand that they are not whom they thought they are (Brooks 25). The agony involved in suffering hits the bottom line of one’s personality. When the agony makes them act in another personality’s way, they realize they have different personalities. For instance, the agony of losing a loved one can reveal the true personality of an individual. If the individual initially thought they are strong enough, they may find that they are actually weak in holding agony. Through this, they understand their true personality and understand themselves, which leads to acceptance of who they are. In the end, by accepting who they are, they derive happiness.

Brookes also argues that suffering enables people to understand their limitations of what they can control and cannot control. Often, people cannot tell themselves to stop feeling the pain, as they do not know where the pain comes from. Similarly, they cannot prevent themselves from experiencing tranquility after grief. In this case, they cannot control the process of grief or process of happiness. However, they can control how they respond to sorrow or joy. By this, they understand that they are not masters of their situations but feel a moral responsibility to derive happiness from the suffering. It is through the limitations that suffering define that enable people to derive pleasure from suffering. Lastly, Brooke argues that recovering from suffering is not like recovering from a disease where one comes out healed. In suffering, one comes out a different person through understanding their true self and limitations (Brooks 25). The suffering becomes a source of happiness.

McMahan et al. principal opinion is based on the beliefs an individual holds about suffering. They assert that negative hedonic beliefs are related to happiness by integrating stress (McMahan et al. 2569). From an evidence-based study, they concluded that people who strongly believe in negative hedonic beliefs are more likely to suffer stress, which later leads to reduced happiness. The conclusion challenges Brooke’s opinion that suffering leads to happiness. Their first study discovered that the more negative an individual is, the more they suffer in the form of stress, and the more stress they have, and the less happy they are. Increased stress leads to lower subjective well-being and intense psychological well-being (McMahan et al. 2569). In this case, suffering impacts happiness negatively due to the endorsement of negative hedonic beliefs.

Based on my experiences and observations, my opinion supports both articles. Firstly, I support Brookes that suffering leads to increased happiness. I have had a situation where I was mourning the loss of my friend, and because the loss hit me harder, I discovered that my personality was so different from what I thought. I always felt strong, and I could only grieve for a few days and get back to normal. However, I noticed that I was not that strong. I, therefore, needed to accept that, and since I could not control his loss, I had to make myself comfortable without him and derive happiness from the grief.

On the contrary, I refute his claim because suffering does not always lead to happiness. This leads to accepting McMahan et al. opinion that it depends on the belief an individual holds about negative thoughts. If I had extreme negative beliefs about the grief situation, it could have been challenging to accept that I can be happy without his presence. I could have developed stress, which could further my sadness, leading to decreased happiness. Hence, suffering leads to happiness, but again it depends on one’s beliefs on the same.

Both authors’ opinions are similar in that they suggest that suffering impacts an individual’s happiness. However, the difference comes in when Brooke suggests that suffering leads to increased happiness, and McMahan et al. tell that suffering, particularly in stress, leads to decreased happiness. McMahan et al. opinion is based on the beliefs of an individual. Nevertheless, the two articles support the argument that suffering can impact happiness either positively or negatively. It, therefore, implies that beliefs play a crucial role in enhancing happiness as McMahan, et al.’s study suggests. The overall point remains that suffering has a relationship with happiness, and it is upon an individual’s task to derive satisfaction through being positive.

To sum up, suffering can positively or negatively impact happiness, depending on an individual’s beliefs. Brookes argues that suffering has a positive impact in that it leads to increased happiness through an individual identifying their true self and their limitations. McMahan et al. refutes Brooks’ claim and concludes that the relationship between suffering and happiness depends on one’s beliefs. Negative beliefs tend to increase stress levels, reducing happiness, psychological wellbeing, and subjective wellbeing. However, they both have a similar connotation that suffering has an impact on happiness. It is, therefore, crucial to understand how we handle suffering because it determines our happiness. According to Brookes, we should take our suffering as a challenge and derive happiness from it. McMahan et al. also suggest that we should handle suffering from positivity to enhance happiness.

Works Cited

Brooks, David. “Opinion | What Suffering Does (Published 2014)”. Nytimes.Com, 2014,

McMahan, Ethan A. et al. “Some Implications Of Believing That Happiness Involves The Absence Of Pain: Negative Hedonic Beliefs Exacerbate The Effects Of Stress On Well-Being”. Journal Of Happiness Studies, vol 17, no. 6, 2015, pp. 2569-2593. Springer Science And Business Media LLC, doi:10.1007/s10902-015-9707-8. Accessed 2 Mar 2021.