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Pain -vs- Misery 

In 1978 Rabbi Harold Kushner published a book called When Bad Things Happen to Good People.  The book stayed on the New York Times Bestseller list for many months.  It was the first of many books that explored this topic.  One of the reasons, no doubt, for the success of the book is that is addresses a question that comes to everyone sooner or later.  Why is there pain in my life?

Rabbi Kushner points out in his book that pain, in one form or another, visits every life.  It may be physical pain, caused by illness or accident.  It may be emotional pain, caused by the death of a loved one, or by the loss of a long-cherished relationship.  It may even be mental pain, caused by the difficulty of making a “Sophie’s Choice” in which each option brings with it a bad side effect.  

Misery is different than pain.   Pain is related to a specific instance or circumstance.  Misery is the dwelling on it, the allowing it to take over a life, to color everything else that happens.  We have all known people who could not get past a painful experience.  It’s as if the experience, whatever it was, is happening to them over and over.  First, it makes them miserable.  Then it begins to affect the people around them.  

So, how do we keep from allowing our painful experiences to linger on?  I have found that the best medicine is often the most difficult to take.  It involves looking outside ourselves for someone else that we can help.  Perhaps it is someone who is dealing with pain of their own.  Or it is just someone who needs a friend.  Or it is a neighbor who needs a visit and a listening ear.  The fact is there are always unlimited ways in which we can reach out and help others.

There are organizations that help groups of people that are always looking for extra help.  Is there a group in your town that helps tutor children?  Perhaps you could help there.  Is there a group in your area that gathers and distributes goods to areas of the world where disaster has come to call?  These groups always need additional help.  Is there a way that you can tutor students in a particular skill you have, or just in reading or arithmetic?  The fact is that looking outside yourself is the best antidote to prevent pain from turning into misery.

The other thing we can do in such situations is to maintain and expand our network of friends and associates.  Misery generally seeks solitude.  Misery tends to cut people off from their social circles and, in some cases, from their family members.  In the book The 3 Gaps there are first person examples of people who moved past their pain into productivity and happiness.  It can be done.  When I re-read those stories, I am reminded of the boundless potential in each one of us.  It is something we all need to remember.


Hyrum Smith is a distinguished author, speaker, and businessman. He is the co-founder and former CEO of FranklinCovey®. For three decades, he has empowered people to effectively govern their personal and professional lives. Hyrum’s books and presentations have been acclaimed by American and international audiences. He combines wit and enthusiasm with a gift for communicating compelling principles that incite lasting personal change. You can visit him on the web at



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