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The Table Video

Array Array& Lynn Underwood

How Does Suffering Contribute To Flourishing?

Professor of Psychology at Rosemead School of Psychology, Biola University
Senior Research Scholar, Inamori International Center for Ethics and Excellence at Case Western Reserve University
June 9, 2017


There’s a psychologist by the name of Roy Baumeister, very very famous psychologist who tried, along with some of his colleagues, to differentiate between this kind of more hedonic or pleasure-oriented form of happiness and what we might call flourishing in this context. And so he looked at a number of different variables that might distinguish between the two. And he actually found that suffering, or the presence of distressing events in someone’s life, was one of the key variables that separated the two.

So it was, as you might imagine, not related to kind of the happy life in the sense of the pleasurable life, but it turned out to be correlated in a positive direction with the concept of flourishing. So there is something to what you are implying here that it’s not just that suffering is compatible with it, but it actually can lead to it. So much so that positive psychologist Laura King once called it the hard road to the good life. And I think that the key there is that when we encounter circumstances in our life that are very very difficult, it leads to a significant reevaluation of the ways that we have conceptualized and thought about life.

And so when all the pieces of the way that we think about life are kind of thrown up in the air and then we have to kind of put them together in a new way, it provides us with the opportunity really for putting it together in a better way, in a way that is more meaningful and a way that focuses on the things that are important and that are more in touch with reality. And so I think that’s why suffering can lead to flourishing, because of the role of suffering in allowing meaning making.