9 Ways to Embrace Pain and Discover Joy

Have you ever been caught off guard? Things are going along just fine and you’re happy. Then, the roller coaster ride of life sends you twisting and turning without even a hint of advanced notice. The sudden drop stirs up emotions such as apprehension, fear, and resentment. These feelings become a new sort of normal, tempting you to stay stuck in the loop-to-loops. The good news? Life’s roller coaster ride doesn’t only have drops. And, the emotions that accompany them have a beginning and an end if you let them. Once you do, you’ll be on your way to the more exciting parts of the ride and stronger for it. After all, the key to enjoying the ride is to embrace pain and discover joy.

9 Ways to Embrace Pain and Discover Joy

Let’s continue with the example above. Even though I knew I was in pain and knew that pain was key to progress, I didn’t know how to move through it. This significantly increased my pain’s intensity and duration.

Here are nine ways to embrace pain and discover joy:

1. Identify the Benefits of Pain

Pain serves an important purpose in our lives. But before we can embrace pain and discover joy, we must understand the positive benefits that comes from enduring painful experiences. Pain:

  • Teaches us important lessons
  • Shifts perspective
  • Facilitates personal growth
  • Increases gratitude
  • Instills confidence
  • Develops resilience
  • Helps us recognize joy

2. Own Painful Feeling, Experiences

Blaming others for our pain is tempting as it distracts us from the painful emotions we feel. It also helps us feel more in control by distracting us from feelings of powerlessness. We will stay caught in our pain until we can own it, let our path take its own shape, and sit with it. Yes! Giving ourselves permission to feel the pain is critical to moving forward. Once we do that, we will be able to start finding meaning in our pain—meaning that can turn into insight, wisdom, and joy.

3. Process Painful Feelings, Experiences

Before we can recognize the benefits that come from painful feelings and experiences, we need to process our pain. We can process pain by:

  • Exercising
  • Getting out in nature
  • Meditating
  • Meeting with a therapist
  • Praying
  • Talking with close friends or family members
  • Writing in a journal

The key to processing pain in a healthy way is to work through painful feelings but not dwell on them too long. The beautiful part of the range of emotions we feel is that they have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Let feelings join the journey. Invite them along for the ride. But, say goodbye when their stop has arrived. The key is to let them off and not make the ride all about them.

4. Let the Painful Journey Run its Course

Some painful scars take longer to heal than others. The more we can accept the journey and allow the necessary time to go from stop to stop, the closer we’ll be to embrace pain and discover joy. This doesn’t mean ignoring or stifling feelings like anger, grief, hurt, or more. It means releasing control and recognizing that even the darkest of nights are followed by a beautiful dawn.

I’ve been surprised in my life by circumstances that have lingered far longer than I ever would have expected. When I compare those experiences to others that had a much shorter shelf life, I saw a common thread. I noticed that the less I tried to control situations, the less time the processing took. Additionally, the more I looked at the pain as an opportunity instead of an obstacle, the more I learned from the experience. In contrast, the more I tried to force pain to become joy, the longer I stayed caught in the pain. In short, let go. Feel. Work through pain. Joy is right around the corner.

5. Reframe or Focus on the Positive

Some situations are so painful that it’s hard to see even a dim light at the end of the tunnel. In those situations, try reframing the experience. Search for anything good you can find. Look at other experiences that have proven positive or successful. Talk to others to get a new perspective. Recognizing that our take on things is colored by the lens through which we see the world may help us find the positive in an otherwise negative situation.

I love the picture above. The roller coaster is colorful and cheery. Still, it’s only one part of the beautiful scene. This image shows off the famous Santa Monica Pier, the Pacific Ocean, a ferris wheel overlooking it all, and a hotel in the background. Having just visited this location, I can imagine the souvenir shop where my son bought a t-shirt. I envision the restaurant where my other son and I shared oysters on the half shell. I almost feel the wind in my hair and smell the salt water. The roller coaster’s twists and turns and loops are a small fraction of all to take in from this one photograph. Life is not so different if we focus on the positive.

6. Fill Voids With Positive People and Habits

Grieving the loss of people, expectations, tangible treasures, health, and more can be particularly painful. Time heals most wounds. But, waiting can produce a certain type of pain and loneliness of its own often resulting in resentment, sadness, envy, etc. When waiting gets tough to bear, filling voids with positive people and habits will come to your rescue.

How to fill voids?

  • Attend group therapy meetings with people who are experiencing similar pain. Knowing you’re not alone in your pain is key in processing and sitting with it.
  • Develop or do a favorite hobby (e.g., gardening, music, sewing, etc.).
  • Exercise.
  • Get a pet or volunteer as a pet socializer.
  • Join a club or group relating to one of your hobbies (e.g., book club, knitting club, running group, etc.).
  • Organize or attend meet ups (e.g., regular lunches with neighbors or friends, holiday parties, etc.).
  • Serve (at church, in the community, at the local school, at a nursing home, etc.).
  • Take classes to learn a new skill (e.g., ballroom dancing, cooking classes, etc.)
  • Work.

7. Forgive

Other individuals may be associated with our painful experiences or we may blame ourselves. Either way, forgiveness wards off resentment by helping us move through our feelings instead of getting caught up on anger toward another or ourselves.

To clarify, forgiveness does not mean approving of or putting up with negative behavior—our own or that of others. Instead, it means replacing resentment with empathy and mercy so we can move on.

8. Have an Attitude of Growth and Gratitude

Approaching painful experiences with an attitude of “What can I learn?” and “What is there to be thankful for?” is the fastest way to embrace pain and discover joy. Focusing on how we can avoid the pain and trying to control it or the time it takes to heal heightens the pain and lengthens the healing process.

Read more about how I started a gratitude practice and how writing a gratitude journal for me and for my husband saved my sanity and our marriage.

9. Show Empathy

As we experience the positive benefits of working through painful experiences, we develop compassion. To use it:

  • Recognize that everyone is likely fighting some sort of battle and experiencing pain.
  • Identify that connection is a powerful tool in people’s ability to process their pain.
  • Reach out, show empathy, and connect.

Showing empathy is not easy. Entire books have been written on the topic. I have found that Brene Brown makes empathy accessible and applicable in her books. Check out this quick video on how to show empathy by RSA that summarizes Brene Brown’s teachings.

Progress Not Perfection

No matter how many painful experiences you go through, life’s roller coaster can blindside you. The goal is not to arrive at a place where you have a pain free life. Rather, the goal is to get better and better at leaning into pain and learning from it.

What tips do you have to embrace pain and discover joy?

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