There are ideas that everyone suffers somewhat -- nobody gets out of life alive at the end.

But why do others live good lives with more happiness and why am I miserable? Is this life carved in stone for me? Can I truly make my life do a 180 and can I be happy? I have not been happy since a child in pre-puberty. I have lived many years lonely, unhappy and miserable/suffering.

I now want to change my life, but can it be done? Is my suffering just the way of life I'm destined? Or is it theoretically possible that my whole life can turn around and I can live a great life?

Basically, is my suffering just the unfair reality that my existence is set in stone? I will likely always suffer and be miserable? I am unlikely or it's impossible for me to be happy and have what I want in life? People believe things are planned out in life ahead of time and cannot be changed since everything is pre-destined. So it's plausible that I'm pre-destined to suffer and I can't change it? The universe has aligned everything around me to be bad? No one will love me and I'll die miserable?

And I cannot change this, no matter what actions I force myself to take? Robbing a bank to use money to buy myself a new life? Alter my appearance so people like me more? This is not possible for me to do? Can I force myself to change the path of life I'm on or am I stuck in pain forever?!!?!!!

Should I believe everything is set in stone and I am forced to suffer in this world -- or should I do everything in my power to try and believe I can "change" everything in my life somehow?

  • I? Is this a question or a cry for help? If you need help, there are a lot of organizations you can speak to. Suffering may be a result of internal factors – David Jun 16 '18 at 10:59
  • All good questions but perhaps a little narrow. Are you aware of the view that suffering is unreal? Or that it can be overcome? Or that it has purpose? At present you are identifying 'you' with 'your' suffering and so are suffering but this is not necessary. You equate suffering and life and this seems correct given that life is bound to entail suffering. .Thus the way to avoid suffering would be the same as the way to avoid life and death. It's a well-known practice and practitioners report that it works. – user20253 Jun 16 '18 at 11:04
  • Hell yes... Sometimes suffering canbe unfair. – Peter Johnmeyer Jun 16 '18 at 11:46
  • This seems to be a question about fatalism which becomes a problem when things aren't going the way one wants them to go. I am trying to understand why you are asking this on a philosophy question and answer site. – Frank Hubeny Jun 16 '18 at 12:35
  • Keep a journal. Continue your writing. Something good could come from it. – Gordon Jun 16 '18 at 13:22

Buddhism is, fundamentally, about suffering, the causes of suffering, that there is a way to end suffering, and the path or methid to end suffering (these clauses are the Four Noble Truths, the fundamental statement of what Buddhism is). So I feel it is pertinent to relate how this perspective might solve your problems

The Buddhist view is, events in our lives come from causes outside this moment. We and others were involved in those. But we should focus on what we can change, which is how we meet those causes and conditions. We may meet things like old age and sickness, people we know will die. But to resent those as 'unfair' is to suffer twice for them. It is in the nature of everything to be temporary, to change, everything is impermanent. There are no essences, everything lacks inherent identities, including yourself. And clinging to the idea they do, to permanence and fixed natures, causes suffering. These are a statement of the 'Three Marks of Existence'.

There is a kind of practucal statement of this, in a book called the Vishudimagga:

"Mere suffering exists, no sufferer is found; The deeds are, but no doer of the deeds is there; Nibbāna is, but not the man that enters it; The path is, but no traveler on it is seen."

Suffering arises from how we choose to stand in relation to ourselves. We can't choose for there to be less suffering in the world right now. But we can 'turn the cart' right now, in thus moment, to not contribute to the suffering. We can choose to cultivate positive qualities that improve and healntge world, and ourselves. Loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, equanimity. By making these habits, rooting them into our lives, we can best face the suffering there is, and develop skillful means to end it.

Your condition sounds difficult. Good luck. At core, focus on what you have control over. Observe the behaviour of your mind and mental tone. Try not to be forced into behaviours or reactions, take some steady breaths, and decide how you want to be. Don't cling to the idea things should or need to be a particular way, while you are doing that you are in a daydream, and may be missing whatever sweetness or peace is in how things are right now. If you look for positives, you will see them. You have looked for negatives, and all you see now is them.

The more we try to change things, the more they stay the same. The more we can bring our attention, our presence, to this very moment, the more we can choose with our whole being which forks in the path to take. It sounds counterintuitive, but honestly you don't have to be a Buddhist to find this works.


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It's no secret that life isn't fair, as the extra-terrestrial philosopher in the video A Small Talent for War so eloquently states @ 2:36 -- "The universe, Mr. Fraser, is not fair."

But are we truly helpless in fighting the unfairness that surrounds us?

First, let's distinguish between what we might call natural unfairness vs artificial or social unfairness. (I made those terms up; if there are better, more established terms, please share.)

Natural unfairness includes being born deformed or simply being born unattractive. It includes watching your home destroyed by a natural disaster or getting hit in the head by a meteorite.

Social unfairness includes being born deformed...because your parents were sprayed with Agent Orange. It includes media that tell us what physically attractive people should look like. It includes watching your home bombed by the U.S. Air Force or being attacked by rogue police while participating in a peaceful protest.

Natural unfairness can be fought to some extent. For example, medical technology might help one cope with maladies one was born with. But there are obviously limits to such remedies.

Social unfairness is another matter. Fighting for fairness is what political activism is all about.

The answer to your opening question - "Is suffering unfair?" - depends on how one defines fairness. Some philosophers might argue that there's no such thing as fairness.

But your closing question is quite different:

Should I believe everything is set in stone and I am forced to suffer in this world -- or should I do everything in my power to try and believe I can "change" everything in my life somehow?

Obviously, no one can change "everything," but they can certainly change some things. To a great extent, most people are forced to suffer under the super rich who exploit other people - a condition that has existed for thousands of years. But fighting back can essentially make life more fair.

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If ‘suffering’ , like all emotions, is a product of the mind, how can it be fair or unfair? It’s simply a manifestation of your genetics, life situation, experience, and brain chemistry. While genetics and propensity for such emotions can’t be changed, all the others ( including brain chemistry) can. This is why psychology and psychiatry exist as professions.

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  • I believe they mean not the possibility of suffering, but the fact of it. Or, going further, the external cause of that suffering. – rus9384 Jun 16 '18 at 6:36

This sort of question is difficult to answer here. It's the kind of question that is best suited by a series of back-and-forth interactions with a trusted mentor (or, failing that, a trusted psychiatrist or similarly trained professional). The best that I can offer in this format is a few independent answers. You are free to amalgamate them as you see fit, and if they help you, then good. If not, they're just text from a stranger. I will, however, try to tie it into philosophy, since that's the forum you are asking on.

Answer #1: "Fair" is an F-word and a four-letter-word, and should be treated accordingly
Of all the answers, this is going to be the most brutal. An expectation of fairness is the enemy of happiness, and you used the word "fair," so I'd like to challenge that one first. The other isolated answers will be less combative.

Personally, I find the concept of "fairness" has a strong tendency to lead to negative feelings such as suffering. It has been found that other primates have some concept of fairness, so it is clearly part of our psychology, but it's a troublesome one. Fair implies that there is some cosmic equality. Unless you have a religion which supports that, "fair" has a strong tendency to get you in trouble. It is remarkable how little of the universe seems to fit our concept of fairness, so an expectation that things will be fair has a strong tendency to lead to unhappiness.

We have a tendency to look to those that are happier than us when we invoke "fair." You, yourself, did this. However, we do not often consider those that are less happy than us. I don't know why we do this, but it seems to be a pretty reliable general trend. For some people, seeing those who are less happy than us is a useful reminder. If you happen to be one of those people, consider this father. He's a Pakistani immigrant, trying to make a living on the streets of America by selling pens. I keep his picture around to remind me of... something important.

Selling pens

Answer #2: It doesn't matter if life is predestined
There is no reliable argument proving that life is predestined. Some religions will argue that everything in life is predestined, but they can only argue it if you start from assuming that religion has the Truth. If you find such a religion, feel free to believe it if you wish, but there's no obligation that everything be predestined.

Even if everything is predestined, that does not imply that the path you are on cannot change. For an exercise, consider the stock market. Go find some historical records and find trends in the stock market. Pick a few trends you think always hold true, and then fake invest in them. By "fake invest," I mean follow the stocks in future months and see how much you would have made if you invested in those stocks. (For actual investments, obviously you should not follow an internet stranger's advice, but for fake investments, it's safe).

What you will quickly find is a well known adage in the stock market: "Past performance does not predict future gains." A path that was only making money in the past can turn into a loser in a heartbeat. A path that was losing money like crazy can suddenly hit it big. Yes, there are patterns, but nothing says that the future needs to follow them. Indeed, environments such as the stock market demonstrate that complex systems (like humans or stock exchanges) regularly break trends and do something unexpected, for better or for worse. There is no guarantee that your current unhappiness can only lead to future unhappiness. That's a good thing!

Likewise, past unhappiness does not automatically imply future unhappiness. I will admit that there's a statistical trend that way, but that's nothing more than a statistical trend. If I may suggest the movie The Pursuit of Happiness, it is an excellent dramatization of this.

Answer #3: Whether suffering can end or not is a question philosophers disagree on.
This answer is probably most directly focused on your real question: we don't have an agreement among the philosophers as to whether life is suffering. We can see this disagreement quite clearly in religion. Buddhism is built in the tenant that all of life is suffering. The Sanskrit word used here is "dukkha," which has its roots in the idea of a wheel with a poor axle hole in it, thus creating imbalance in life. The Buddhists claim that the only way to escape dukkha is to follow the tenants in their religion. Other religions suggest that the exhalation of their particular deity is the only way to escape suffering. In fact, the tendency for religions to suggest that they can end suffering should be treated as a hint that it is not unusual to feel that life is suffering.

Indeed, one challenge in philosophy is to define what "suffering" really means. We often have an intuitive sense of it, but putting it into words can be a real challenge.

Answer #4: Consider biological causes
I'd be remiss in this day and age, with all its scientific advancement, if I did not mention that what you describe can indeed be attributed to chemical effects within the brain. As a random internet stranger, I am not in a position to diagnose you, personally, but it is recognized that these feelings can be caused by chemicals. There are people who can help you determine if there are biological or chemical causes for your feelings, many of whom have degrees in psychology or psychiatry. Such is also beyond the scope of Philsophy.SE, but if you feel it is worth pursuing, there are people who can help you study this side of the story.

So what should you do?
I don't think we can say such things, as random internet strangers. Some would say to give up trying. Some would say to try your hardest, despite the odds. Some would suggest strange middle grounds, like Wu Wei which is a Chinese concept of "doing without doing" which refuses to be categorized into a simple "try or don't try" scale. So while I cannot suggest an answer to what you should do, I can point out that there is an extraordinary and beautiful range of answers to "what should I do?" The one thing you should not feel is hemmed in and forced into one answer -- there's so many answers out there.

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If something is unfair - a situation, state of affairs, the occurrence of an event - then this is a moral criticism. Of what ? It can only be of an agent or of agents who or which have caused it or who/ which, whether they caused it or not, could remedy it or compensate for it but have not done so. There needs to be moral responsibility either for causing it or not ending it.

If 'suffering is unfair' - the suffering of a population during a drought or famine, a tragic cancer that afflicts a three-month old baby, the human horror that follows a volcanic explosion or a tsunami - then it must be the case that a morally responsible agent or agents caused it or could but haven't remedied it or compensated for it.

Likewise in your own case, your suffering, with which naturally I sympathise, can only be 'unfair' if a morally responsible agent or morally responsible agents caused it or could but haven't remedied it or compensated for it. Unless there are such agents, then your situation is not one of unfairness but of adversity, bad luck, ill fortune. This would not make your situation any easier to live with but it would remove it from the category of unfairness.

I readily recognise that cases of adversity, bad luck, ill fortune can be described as 'unfair' - it depends on people's use of language. My only comment would be that 'unfair' then loses any distinctive meaning. In this usage if you call something 'unfair' you might just as well use any of the other words I've listed. The usage I recommend assigns 'unfair' a distinctive role in meaning which terms such as adversity, bad luck, ill fortune don't capture.

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  • People do not necessarily involve concsious agents when speaking about fairness. Tree hit a car - unfair, house got burned - unfair, etc. Well, all those examples involve private property which was not the case in prehistoric societies, that's the root of unfairness. But we can assume someone born disabled - unfair. In this case there obviously is no agent. – rus9384 Jun 16 '18 at 12:56
  • I wouldn't call any of your examples cases of unfairness but rather of misfortune, bad luck, &c. But what is this but yet another case of disagreement between us ? Maybe we'll agree on something someday ;)- – Geoffrey Thomas Jun 16 '18 at 13:04
  • I don't say you are wrong. I say what many people usually mean by unfairness, possibly including OP. – rus9384 Jun 16 '18 at 13:08
  • OK, point taken. We'll have to see, as editors say, what the readers think. Best - Geoff – Geoffrey Thomas Jun 16 '18 at 17:45

Let me start by saying that "some suffering" is actually good! It allows us to detect and enjoy happiness and be happy when we encounter it. This is very important because suffering and happiness are states of mind. An example of this, is a masochist. This person actually enjoys (makes him happy) being beaten!

Although you have to be careful not to "fool yourself" into happiness, your happiness does depend on you.

You have to develop a positive attitude. You have to look for the positive side to all events in your life. Two examples of this are: 1) "If life gives you lemons, make lemonade with them." 2) Look at how other people have faced adversity and have become better/happier persons because of it.

Instead of believing that other persons are happier than you, look at the poem of Richard Cory, Robbin Williams suicide, and other "famous" people, that apparently "have everything", and yet - commit suicide!

To be happy, you have to love yourself, be happy with what you have, and do all you can to make someone else happy!

If none of this "works," you need to get professional help (medical and/or psychological).

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