How to Overcome Self-Pity | Motivational Podcasts

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The worst brake that we can place on the will to be healthy & well is undoubtedly the habit that some people have of pitying themselves, and feeling that they are eminently deserving of the pity of others because of the trials (real or supposed) which they have to undergo. Instead of realizing how much better off they are than the great majority of people—for most typical self-pitiers are not real subjects for pity—they keep looking at those whom they fondly suppose to be happier than themselves and then proceed to get into a mood of commiseration with themselves because of their less fortunate situation.

Just as soon as men or women assume this state of mind, it becomes extremely difficult for them to stand any real trials that appear in their lives or maintain any feeling of robust energy. Self-pity is ever a serious roadblock to healthy vitality.

A great many things in modern life have distinctly encouraged this practice of self-pity to the extent that it is now almost commonplace for people to feel that they are suffering. We have thus become extremely sensitive to contact with suffering.

Many film-makers today refuse to produce movies that have unhappy endings, because people do not care to see them. The story may have some suffering in it and even severe hardships, especially if these can be used for purposes of a dramatic climax. But by the end of the story everything must have turned out “just lovely”, and it must be understood that suffering is only a passing matter and merely a somewhat unpleasant prelude to inevitable happiness.

Needless to say, this is not the way of life as it often must be lived, in what many generations of writers once called “this vale of tears.” For a great many people have to suffer severely and without any prospect of relief—none of us quite escape the necessity of suffering—and as someone has said, all human life, inasmuch as there is death in it, must be considered a tragedy.

The old Greeks did not hesitate (in spite of their deep appreciation of the beauty of nature and enthusiasm for the joy of living) to emphasize the tragedy in life. They were inclined to think that the sense of contrast produced by tragedy heightened the actual enjoyment of life, and that indeed all pleasure was founded on contrast rather than positive enjoyment. One may not be ready to agree with the saying that the only thing that makes life worthwhile is contrast, but certainly suffering as a background enhances happiness as nothing else can.

Aristotle declared that tragedy purges life, that is, that only through the lens of death and misfortune can one see life free from the dross of the sordid and merely material to which it is attached. His meaning was that tragedy lifts us above the selfishness of mere individualism. And by showing us the misfortunes of others, it prepares us to struggle against whatever misfortunes might come, as they almost inevitably will. At the same time, tragedy lifts us above the trifles of daily life into a higher, broader sphere of living, where we better realize our true selves and powers.

For humankind is distinctly prone to forget about death and suffering, and when we do, to become eminently selfish and forgetful of the rights of others and our duties towards them. The French have a short saying (which is delivered with an intervening shrug of the shoulders) that is extremely illuminating on this matter. They say that the usual thought of men and women when brought face to face with the fact that people are dying all around them is: “People die—Oh, yes, other people!”

We refuse to recognize the fact that we too must go, until death is actually forced upon us by advancing years or by some incurable disease. As for suffering, a great many people have come almost to resent that they should be asked to suffer, and character dissolves in self-pity as a result.

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