The Shocking Necessity of Suffering and Joy

By: Jim Murphy


  • The path towards extraordinary performance under the most pressure and the path towards the best possible life–absolute fullness of life–is the same path.
  • To have peace and confidence under pressure, and/or to live with deep contentment, joy and confidence independent of circumstances both require wholeheartedness, so you can be fully engaged in the moment, heart, mind and body, no matter what comes your way.
  • Both pursuits also have the same three big challenges: lack of belief, lack of freedom, and lack of focus. AND, both paths also require two basic things: suffering and joy.

“The only way I could find myself, was to put myself through the worst thing possible. I had to build calluses in my brain the same way I built calluses on my hands. I saw myself as the weakest person ever. I wanted to change that.

I had no self esteem, being bullied… the only way I could turn it around, was to put myself through the worst things possible any human being could endure. It would be the only way i could build this brain to handle anything that comes in front of me…callusing my mind through pain and suffering.

I speak from passion. I speak from experience. I speak from suffering. I’m afraid of my shadow. How can I overcome that…how?… Be uncomfortable. Do things you hate to do. The things we run from, we’re running from the truth. The way I became successful, is to run towards the truth.” – David Goggins, Can’t Hurt Me

The truth is, you were created for glory. To share in the glory, you must share in the suffering. You’re going to suffer. The question is, will your suffering have meaning?

Life is difficult, no matter what choices you make. You can have instant gratification (suffer later), or delay gratification (suffer now). Another way to think about it is, will your suffering lead to joy? Or even more, can your suffering be instrumental to your joy, and can you have joy in the midst of suffering?

In March I led a 1:1 Inner Excellence retreat in Florence, Italy and spent a week in Athens, Greece. It was an amazing experience, topped off by an incredible time in the Bahamas with great friends, fantastic food, and stunning golf (the golf course was stunning, that is). Being there helped solidify an important realization: how you experience the world and the joy you get from it correlates directly with the status of your heart.

If your heart is heavy or hardened, no amount of material abundance will soften it. On the other hand, if your heart is undivided and your life is filled with purpose and meaning, then you can be in a back alley behind a Motel 6 in Detroit (nothing personal Detroit), and have more peace and joy than the person with the divided heart in the most incredible island resort. And, thankfully, you can have joy whether in material abundance or in lack.

Material abundance fills material needs. Needs of the heart, however, are a different matter. The heart has five deep needs:

  1. Identity
  2. Community
  3. Purpose
  4. Integrity
  5. Growth

These five deep needs of every human heart (the need to feel a sense of value–that you’re somebody; to love and connect with others; to have a purpose for your life; to be wholehearted; and to learn and grow) are all driven, enhanced, and fulfilled through two seemingly opposites: suffering and joy.

To suffer, and similarly, to have passion, is to endure, to carry a load, to allow yourself to be acted on (passive). It’s allowing yourself to be vulnerable, to take risks, to be transformed–so you can become someone you’ve never been before… so you can have experiences you’ve never had, see more beauty, and have more joy.

Joy is to have a deep sense of well-being, freedom and gratitude, independent of results and circumstances. Joy is the heart of self-control, and suffering is often the means of developing it.

Most of my life I’ve run from suffering. Turned away. Pursued the more common path, the easier one. But the times I’ve faced my fears, been willing to have any feeling, been prepared to look foolish, to suffer, is when I’ve had the most growth and exhilaration.

You can suffer through the isolation and pain of your natural pre-occupation with self (constantly comparing, wanting to look good and be successful), or you can suffer the pain of vulnerability of facing your fears and perhaps looking foolish, in order to learn and grow and master your ego.

When you intentionally choose to do hard things, to suffer now and face the feelings you may have avoided in the past, then you can expand your vision of what’s possible, have more freedom, and be much more present to the beauty that’s available in each moment. You can have joy in the midst of suffering.

It’s in those moments that you start to realize, all things are possible to those who believe.

What you can do

  • Ask yourself, “What’s the hard thing I’m choosing to do, that helps me master my ego, or frees me from being a slave to my feelings? And, “What can I do to help me learn and grow and increase my ability to go through difficult things, to suffer?”
  • Here’s some ideas:
    • Drive at or below the speed limit.
    • Get up an hour earlier.
    • Try something where you know the odds of success are less than 40%.
    • Fast for 24 hours (no food).
    • Take a cold shower (and/or ice bath).
  • Sacrifice for others in secret.
  • Expect abundance. Prepare to suffer.

Love Jim

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