I have been learning a lot lately about a strange term, “Ordinary Misery.” You can research it and learn all of the psychotherapy origins and treatment options and strategies but allow me to dumb it down for you. Sadness. Pain. Grief. Things like these comprise ordinary misery.
I suppose it’s not exactly earth shattering to define or even understand this. However, it’s impact on us as individuals and as a society is important. Think about it from your perspective. You have that pain that doesn’t go away. You have that cold that lingers and lingers. Your boss, your neighbor, your relative, whoever treats you bad just doesn’t stop. Your finances are a mess. Your house just keeps falling apart. If it’s not one thing it’s another. How does this render you emotionally? How do you feel as this continues to go on and never relents? What steps do you take to alleviate this pain? What actions do you take to make these things go away that inevitably don’t help and very often make them, or you, worse?
As a society we have developed a complete intolerance for ordinary misery. It’s too easy to simply point at addictions. There is so much depth to that issue. The current opioid epidemic is fueled by negative reactions to this “misery.” Someone gets surgery and gets pain meds (opioids). They are intended for temporary relief from pain. However, when it comes time to wean off the drugs, the pain comes back. In short order, the original pain is replaced by a dependency on the drug. What took one pill to erase the misery, it now takes two, three, four and more. People now are losing their lives to an horrific condition that resulted from pain. I’m not diminishing the pain. I am saying that it doesn’t need to result in death.
Opioids aren’t the only addiction born out of an intolerance to ordinary misery. How many people turn to pornography when they aren’t fulfilled in their relationships? How many people turn to food to ease the pain of the rest of their life? The hurts of everyday life cause negative reactions that result in permanent damage.
How many relationships are severed and broken? How high is the divorce rate? How much violence is impacting our society? Granted, not all of it can be attributed to everyday misery. Much of it can be though.
There is a sneaky side effect to this. What happens when things are ok? What is one’s emotional state when the pain is gone? How often do we wonder, “When will the next shoe drop? How long will this peace last? When will the pain come back? When will the next problem arise?” We exist in a state of anxiety in fear of the next time of pain. Thus, we are either in pain (ordinary misery) or waiting for it (anxiety). Where is the good in life then? No wonder we are emotionally exhausted.
However, what if we flipped the script? What if we embraced the ordinary misery? What if we realized that it would cause us to grow? What if we knew that it made us stronger, better, more able to face what life has for us? What if we had a confidence about us that enabled us to know we could face the challenges that come our way? Then, when things are going well and there is no pain, we can truly enjoy it without fear that it will soon end.
The way we are results in a life of fear and damaging life choices. If we could embrace this misery and learn to not only survive it but thrive from it, we could truly live. Imagine no fear. Imagine resiliency. Imagine confidence. Imagine strength. We can have that.
One way to get there is to actually create a bit of ordinary misery that you can control. That’s one of the benefits of exercise. Some people actually take cold showers (or baths). I decided to take Jiu-Jitsu which has me struggling, learning, and often in physical pain. The advantage of putting yourself in some ordinary misery is that you are in control and grow the confidence of facing that which is out of your control.
Now, you need to know that I am not referencing horrific pain, grief, and tragedy. These things happen only a few times in a lifetime (for most). You (if you’ve read anything I’ve written) know that I am not saying you just need to pretend that nothing is wrong. You have to have comfort, you have to have someone join you in your pain. A lot of our reactions to ordinary misery is a result of hurts from most of life, especially early on.
Realize that there is ordinary pain, realize that is inevitable, know that it is bearable, learn to embrace it, and enjoy the times when it is not there.