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Philosophy and the Two Stages of Suffering -- How To Live a Less Painful Existence

Updated: May 29

A melancholic young adult.

Ms. Tamara Moskal's Synopsis

Life revolves around two primary stages of suffering. The first stage occurs when we are forced to abandon our true desires and submit to compulsory education and societal conditioning. The second stage may emerge when we reach our goals but succumb to frustration and depression caused by a lack of self-awareness. However, it's possible to find genuine happiness in this post-purpose phase. 
Suffering is an inseparable part of life experiences for most people, regardless of status or wealth; discomfort can help with personal growth. 
A part of suffering originates from societal control and restrictions on personal liberty, which we can minimize by gaining more freedom. Yet, even those free of imposed suffering might experience emotional pain caused by a lack of purpose.
Most people need a long-term pursuit that makes them "feel alive" and happy. Their higher purpose can be charitable, communal, or philosophical. 
Philosophy is underrated, yet essential in our lives. Besides seeking objective truth, a personalized philosophy can empower us to reduce suffering and depression in ourselves and others.

The Two Faces of Suffering

Suffering often arises from a gap between two states of being:

  1. The first occurs when we're forced to give up our desires. This is most evident in early life, where compulsory education for a significant portion of our youth restricts our freedom to pursue what truly interests us. School becomes the obstacle, and the resulting lack of control over the time in our lives and can often fuel our suffering.

  2. This connection between freedom and suffering is clear: Overcoming suffering can lead to greater resilience and autonomy. When something stands in the way of our immediate desires or long-term goals, the perceived loss of autonomy can pain.

  3. Freedom, then, becomes a powerful antidote to our otherwise-longer distance from our ideal selves. With it, we have the agency to choose our actions and pursue a life path that aligns with our true desires. Not necessarily the desires indoctrinated to us through culture. The second stage of suffering emerges even when we have achieved our desires. This seemingly paradoxical situation highlights the limitations of choice, and raises awareness to a concept I'd like to call post-purpose.

  4. It means that, despite the accomplishment of our goals, we may not always possess the knowledge or self-awareness to extinguish the flames of unwanted suffering. Because of this, for example, it's often lonely at the top. Despite the belief that we know what's best for ourselves, there are times when these choices lead us down paths that ultimately bring frustration. This is why knowing ourselves properly is crucial. To combat this second stage, people turn to a variety of solutions, both temporary and long-term, seeking a sense of lasting fulfillment. Some may resort to substances or fleeting relationships, while others embark on journeys of self-discovery. Others simply succumb to depression. While there isn't a one-size-fits-all remedy, some individuals do find ways to navigate this stage and experience periods of genuine happiness.

Life can be described as revolving around these two basic stages of suffering. If so, life then becomes a matter of how much suffering we're experiencing at the current phase of our lives. But an agony-free life might be impossible. After all, by choosing life, we also choose grief. For life is a package of various features, both optimistic and passimistic.

Then, why not see suffering, such as the slightest discomfort, as an option for greater growth?

Growth Through Discomfort

While some argue that suffering can build resilience, a life completely devoid of it wouldn't necessarily be ideal. This issue depends on two factors:

The absence of justified suffering is a luxury few experience, and even the prestigious and the rich have their own suffering to deal with, as underrated as it is. To quote the Dalai Lama:

Yet even the rich have their own kind of suffering, anxiety, doubt, and fear. So in many cases, wealthy people aren't happy! And once those with material wealth encounter small difficulties, their amount of mental suffering is sometimes bigger than it is for those who have faced such difficulties every day.

As members of society, we often face limitations, as society needs harmony, and thus, restriction, in order to preserve itself. In childhood, mandatory education restricts our autonomy, similar to a "penalty" for belonging to a larger group. Later, to achieve financial independence, we might take on jobs that aren't inherently enjoyable, enduring them until retirement (which is another perceived penalty for living independently).

So a lot of our suffering depends on our ability, and willingness, to be free. It is within this "framework" of freedom, after all, to work towards resolving our own suffering. A person with little freedom does not have much means to work their way towards a minimallylived life of suffering. And since it's not society's interest for you to be free due to fear of control, society works against your ability to free yourself from pain and agony.

But even an existence free of imposed suffering might not be free of the emotional pain caused by emptiness. As optimistic nihilism is so hard to achieve naturally. Some of us straight-out fear of this void of meaning, which require us to confine ourselves and to commit to a specific purpose/s. As such, Many people crave a deeper meaning in life, beyond daily routines. Optimistic nihilists, content with the absence of purpose, are the most distinct exception.

This "higher" meaning we may seek isn't necessarily about grand causes; it's a long-term, purpose-driven force that transcends daily life and justifies our existence to ourselves. It resonates with us and makes us feel alive. This "feeling alive" sensation is likely to be the state where we suffer the least. That's because "feeling alive" is where we are concerned the least, instead filled with a state of bliss and genuine joy.

If destiny exists, despite the potential irrationalities existing in this concept, then it's possible that we truly achieve ourselves, and relieve ourselves from much if not all suffering, when we're feeling alive.

Therefore, the moral thing to do for ourselves is to seek out the things which make us feel alive. If we truly love someone, we would also want them to experience this wonderful sensation, where they meet and actualize their "higher meaning" or "higher purpose". Hence the grand importance of finding that purpose. Doing so can release so much pain within you, and can help you even love being alive.

This "higher meaning", the key to feeling alive, can be manifested in three (potentially coexisting) forms:

  • Altruistic (doctor, volunteer, hero, sacrifice for the greater good),

  • Communal (a common source of purpose), or

  • Philosophical (developed through introspection and contemplation).

Finding a purpose that combats suffering in its two stages can make life significantly more bearable, related to Nietzsche's quote:

"He who has a why to live can bear almost any how."

Finding Meaning and Overcoming Suffering

Philosophy, often confined to academia (but not necessarily), holds an underrated importance in our lives. Philosophy can an act of personal reflection and dialogue aimed at understanding the world and ourselves. This innate human desire to solve problems through reason is the core of philosophizing. And problems we can solve should be solved.

While insights from established philosophers can be valuable, the act of forming a personal philosophy is almost a duty we owe ourselves in confronting suffering, depression, and even suicidal thoughts.

The objective truth of the conclusions we reach can be just as important as their ability to contribute to our functionality in society, and in our ability to endure life.

Traditionally, philosophy sought absolute truth. However, The power of philosophy lies not just in finding universal truths, but also in generating ideas that resonate deeply on a personal level, even if they don't correspond to objective reality. As such, philosophy offers more than mere truth-seeking. It also empowers us to combat and reduce unnecessary suffering in ourselves and even in others.

By "purpose-ifying" our lives – striving for a life well-lived – we can find meaning and overcome the struggles that burden us. At the very least, these burdens would be a lot more tolerable.

Ms. Tamara Moskal's Feedback

Compulsory education means that parents must send their children to a state-approved school. Since the beginning of the 20th century, all countries, except Bhutan, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Vatican City, have implemented compulsory education laws. The obligatory schooling system has pros and cons but is a necessary evil, as knowledge is the key to choices and possibilities. Learning makes it possible to distinguish between the ignorance of a slave mindset (Plato's cave) and freedom's complicated decisions (and consequences). Proper education is a blessing; however, schooling in an evil manipulator's hands is used for harmful propaganda and political mind control of future adults. 
A child is like a sponge absorbing everything around them and is a natural learner. Although learning can cause discomfort due to the reinforcement of discipline, a child should never suffer, be bullied, depressed, or stressed because of school. 
In modern society, parents have no sufficient knowledge, time, or competence to educate their children. Compulsory school education was implemented to give poor and neglected children fair chances, regardless of their parents' ignorance, economic difficulties, and unwillingness to educate their offspring. 
On the other hand, the compulsory education system can be a tool for controlling and indoctrinating political, societal, and dogmatic values instead of pure knowledge. The mandatory school system in many countries is discriminatory, inflexible, and pedagogically imperfect.
Yet, even an imperfectly educated, intelligent, and logical person is likelier (it's only a statistical assumption!) to make an unorthodox, moral choice and step outside the intellectually limiting norms than an ignorant person who can hardly read or write. 
Children's education should remain compulsory, but reforms and adjustments of programs and methods are necessary. Educational programs for gifted and neurodivergent children, online study options, and implementing logical thinking in the primary curriculum are essential. Also, education should be honest, free of manipulation, and based on understanding rather than memorization.
Some children don't like school, but life is a hardship. We must build discipline and resilience through education to help them survive, make conscious choices, and be wise and strong enough to find their purpose and mental freedom. However, when a child experiences education as suffering, it proves the system is a failure.
We are encoded and conditioned to embrace the expectations of others and survive through society's validation in normative categories or rejection. We are taught to be a part of a societal syndicate and be successful in material and traditional ways, regardless of how we feel about it deep inside.
When we achieve societal success, which is not our inner ambition, we triumph on the approval of others, similar to a drug-induced euphoria. It's a fleeting moment of glory, followed by inner emptiness, because we only count when we are visible, followed, and liked. When it's gone, we must find another source of euphoria and another one till we likely succumb to depression, realizing the pointlessness of life, which "feels not ours." Ultimately, the abyss is staring at us, regardless of how others view us; nothing can free us from the feeling of failure anymore as we failed to find its deep meaning.
The purpose of life is in us, hidden deep in our minds. Fulfilling one's purpose may be the true meaning of destiny, and it might be predetermined in genes at birth and finetuned by life circumstances. Finding and fulfilling the purpose through life is a blessing to a few privileged humans, often gifted and visionaries (sometimes madmen) who are not only exceptionally talented but also persist in their never-ending quest for infinite knowledge or artistic expression. Their continued dissatisfaction, ongoing need to create, and the absence of post-purpose make their life worth living.  
Why do so many people struggle to find their purpose, which might be rooted in themselves or even in all humans? 
We all live to find meaningful fulfillment. The most fundamental gratification is satisfying our physiological and societal needs, including status, safety, procreation, and parental instincts. However, some humans seek more abstract intellectual, artistic, and spiritual actualization.  
Our "basic nature" and societal conditioning might overshadow the more abstract "core" when we grow up, or the abstract core might be underdeveloped without sufficient intelligence, education, or stimulation. Neurodivergent and introverted children might be less sustainable for social influences and, therefore, develop a better understanding of their inner core, but they also need guidance. Parents and teachers should observe and nurture all children's dreams and ambitions, not dismissing them as unrealistic and unfit, as they may represent their inner core and lead to greatness. 
Adults can connect to the "abstract core of their purpose" through contemplation, isolation, hardship, and self-acceptance. Also, reconnecting with your "child within" might be helpful. Think about your likes and preferences when you were a less biased, more honest, and "raw" version of yourself. Such an inward journey might be helpful if you struggle with an apathetic lack of purpose. Look back at your forgotten childhood dreams and find your goal in the depths of your inner core, regardless of your current age, education, career, or success.  

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Tomasio A. Rubinshtein, Philosocom's Founder & Writer

I am a philosopher from Israel, author of several books in 2 languages, and Quora's Top Writer of the year 2018. I'm also a semi-hermit who has decided to dedicate his life to writing and sharing my articles across the globe. Several podcasts on me, as well as a radio interview, have been made since my career as a writer. More information about me can be found here.

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