Stronger through Suffering

Whether there's any point of suffering.

“That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

You see this everywhere.

It’s usually taken to mean that you come out stronger from every setback.

That may or may not be true.

It depends on the nature of the person (whether you take setbacks positively or negatively) and his breaking point.

The same guy who’s picked on today might become resilient to that and shrug it off or even push back. Or he could end up being permanently scarred by it.

And even a resilient person might have a breaking point beyond which a hardship damages him instead of ‘making him stronger’.

But I don’t think the author of that quote meant it that way.

To those human beings who are of any concern to me I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, ill-treatment, indignities — I wish that they should not remain unfamiliar with profound self-contempt, the torture of self-mistrust, the wretchedness of the vanquished: I have no pity for them, because I wish them the only thing that can prove today whether one is worth anything or not — that one endures.

Friedrich Nietzsche

That sounds like a pretty sadistic thing to say.

If this is what you wish for those you care about, what would you wish for those you dislike?

What if pleasure and displeasure were so tied together that whoever wanted to have as much as possible of one must also have as much as possible of the other — that whoever wanted to learn to “jubilate up to the heavens” would also have to be prepared for “depression unto death”?

You have the choice: either as little displeasure as possible, painlessness in brief … or as much displeasure as possible as the price for the growth of an abundance of subtle pleasures and joys that have rarely been relished yet? If you decide for the former and desire to diminish and lower the level of human pain, you also have to diminish and lower the level of their capacity for joy.

Friedrich Nietzsche

If you believe that pleasure and suffering go hand in hand, that you can’t have peaks without troughs, you’ll understand why someone would want those he cared about to suffer deeply.

And those you don’t care about? If you really don’t concern yourself with them, you wouldn’t wish anything – pleasure or displeasure.

Not Just Any Suffering

But are pleasure and suffering tied together?

They can be, but they don’t have to be.

If suffering was so desirable, you’d go out of your way to suffer.

You could ask people to punch you in the face to make your life harder. Or decide you’ll hop on one leg instead of walking henceforth.

Either of these should qualify for suffering, but I doubt they’ll make you stronger.

That’s just stupid, so I’ll make a distinction between ‘willing’ and ‘unwilling’ suffering, as well as ‘useful’ suffering and ‘useless’ suffering.


There are some things you can avoid, and some things you can’t.

Someone in a concentration camp probably didn’t choose to be there; that’s almost unavoidable – this is unwilling suffering.

But there are things that are in your hands, that might cause you some suffering at times, which you chose – like rigorous exercise or long hours of work.

You can argue that you ‘enjoy the process’ and it isn’t really suffering.

I doubt that’s always the case – though it probably would be true on the whole, but not at every moment.

It’s likely that things that require high levels of mental or physical commitment, like studying a difficult subject, might on some days seem like a grind you have to push through.

But even more than that, I don’t think there’s any pursuit in which every single aspect is enjoyable. I could like exercising but maybe not like waking early to make time for it.

Same for most roles – it’s rare to find anything where you like everything you do.

So that’s ‘willing’ suffering, which you bring upon yourself.

Suffering which isn’t useful is that which you go through without getting any value from, other than the suffering itself.

Perhaps its simply out of masochism, to suffer for the sake of it – like cutting off a limb.

It’s usually when the suffering is an end in itself, not a means. But how do you know that?

Because the end point is to suffer, whether it’s cutting your arm or beating your head against a wall makes no difference; the means are irrelevant.

I think it could also be because of inertia, like someone refusing to improve their situation or leave an unhappy situation – not because they don’t want to or can’t, but because change requires effort.

Of course, there might be reasons to remain – but then there’s some value derived that makes up for it. And that’s ‘useful’.

So you have willing and unwilling suffering, and useful and useless suffering.

If it’s unwilling – it doesn’t really matter whether you think it’s useful or useless because there’s nothing you can do to get away from it.

All I’ll say about it is that the two best things you can do – which are not easy things to do, by any means – are try to make it useful and willing.

To make it useful is to try to derive some value from it, because you’ve anyways got to go through it, so why not get something out of it if you can?

And secondly, but just as importantly – to try not to resent it. Which is to will an unwilling suffering.

That’s the idea of Amor Fati – to transform every ‘thus it was‘ into a ‘thus I willed it’. To transform every ‘unwilling’ suffering into a ‘willing’ one.

So what’s left is suffering that you will, that you’ve chosen.

Testing Usefulness

Fetishizing suffering means embracing all suffering, regardless of utility.

It’s easy to say that suffering without use isn’t something you’d want – anyone who sincerely disagrees should be willing, and in fact eager to be beaten.

Unfortunately, it’s not as easy to distinguish whether suffering is useful or useless as it looks from such extreme examples.

Running an ultra-marathon would be useful or useless for different people depending on whether they get any value out of it.

Because value is subjective, like every consumer has his own utility function in economics, making blanket statements is difficult.

If running marathons was objectively useless, no would do it, and anyone who did would be an idiot – which isn’t the case.

So I’ll skip trying to identify what is or isn’t useless, and instead offer a simple but obvious metric to know if something’s useful to you.

If you like doing it more than not doing it – it gives you some value.

A weak test is you feel better after doing it than you were before.

Running might pass, and so might smoking – even if you don’t like it but think you’re addicted.

A stronger test is you feel bad after not doing it.

And you don’t feel a sense of regret after doing it, like a harmful craving you want to stop but can’t – which means you continue to feel better after doing it than you were before, rather than a temporary high followed by a crash.


I think Nietzsche’s idea of suffering relates to ambition.

You’re either where you want to be, or you’re not. Or you don’t care, and there’s no place you really want to be.

If you’re exactly where you want to be – that’s contentment. All you need is to hold, to stay there – there’s a goal, but it’s a goal for status quo.

If there is nowhere that you want to be, you’re indifferent. There’s no goal, and whether you stay in a place or move it makes no difference to you.

If you’re not where you want to be, then you want to get somewhere, even if you don’t know exactly where, and that’s one way to think of ambition.

There are a series of jumps below, leaps of faith that you might not agree with, in which case you’ll definitely not agree with the conclusion you reach after making the leaps.

If you want to get somewhere, and if you’re not already there, then you have to be willing to suffer for it.

Therefore there is no prescription that you should be willing to suffer to get stronger.

Because it’s perfectly fine to be in a state of contentment, happy where you are, and avoid every suffering that you can avoid.

But if you’re not exactly where you want to be, then you probably have to pay a price for getting there.

The road you walk on carries a toll, and the farther the destination, the higher the suffering, but perhaps also the pleasure – and hence the close tie between them.

Again, there’s another leap of faith here, a third one in addition to the two ifs above, this one hidden.

This is the leap that ties suffering and pleasure.

It’s the belief that anything of worth is by definition hard; if it was easy it wouldn’t be worth it.

Which is to say that nothing that’s truly good comes easy.

And if it’s hard, you have to suffer for it.

The harder it is, the more you have to suffer.

But if pleasure and displeasure are tied together, then that also means the harder it is the more you will get from it.

Two caveats – one that someone content is very unlikely to share this view. Simply chilling at a spot would be worth it to them; easy things are in fact better.

Which makes sense – because if you’re already where you want to be, pleasure is within reach, and exerting will actually take you away from it.

Therefore you don’t need to suffer for pleasure, and you’ll find it hard to agree that pleasure and suffering go hand in hand.

And the other caveat – that this is a one way relation. Anything truly good will be hard, but everything hard isn’t always good.

That’s a fake hardness, either a game you figure out the rules to – like studying what’s likely to be asked in the test and winning, or just useless suffering, like punching a wall – that’s not easy, but perhaps not good either.

Sometimes also, the hardest things are the worst – think of sweatshop workers and manual scavengers – because that’s an unwilling hardness driven by compulsion and lack of options.

This is not an injunction against easy things either – it’s not that anything easy is always bad, it’s just that it’s probably not truly good. So if you share this belief you probably won’t find fulfilment from something as easy as watching TV all day.

Selfless Action

The idea of Nishkama Yoga, acting without attachment to the fruits of your action means you’re not in it just for the final outcome.

It’s often taken to mean ‘love the journey, not the destination’ and from there it’s a short step to asking that if you like the journey then where’s the suffering?

I think there’s a small difference here – though it’s minor compared to the similarities

If it was really about loving the journey, then I’d stop as soon as the journey began to pall on me.

If I’m walking from A to Z, and enjoying it up to K, but now I find myself getting bored and the path immediately ahead looks difficult – why should I push on?

Either I look far ahead for motivation – but now it’s become about the destination – or I continue a journey but, at least temporarily (and who knows how long that will last?) don’t enjoy it.

I’ll go back to what I said earlier – that there’s probably nothing where all aspects are enjoyable all the time.

So perhaps action without attachment to the fruits of your actions could mean something slightly different.

If something is a matter of consequence for you, if its important enough to you, you’ll do it anyway, even if you have to suffer for it, even if you don’t know how it’ll turn out at the end, whether it’ll all be worth it.

It means you can push on through suffering, you can keep going even through troughs and hard times when you’re not ‘loving ‘the journey’ – because what journey is always about peaks?

On the whole, you would like the journey, else you wouldn’t make it – but to expect every moment of a grind to be pleasurable is delusional at best and entitled & hypocritical at worst.

Which doesn’t mean either, that you need to resent that suffering – you can instead, try to will it, which goes back to the earlier idea of Amor Fati.

“I wish that they should not remain unfamiliar with profound self-contempt, the torture of self-mistrust, the wretchedness of the vanquished“.

Anyone who’s aiming for anything above them would be familiar with this.

There’s always self-doubt, self-contempt – whether you’re good enough, whether what you’re doing is actually worth it or if you should never have come this way at all.

The more ambitious, the more suffering.

But that also means that if you’ve got anywhere, you must have gone through suffering (though not vice versa – you can suffer without achieving anything, whether because of failure or fate, like poverty / genetics).

That seems to make suffering a necessary but not sufficient condition for fulfilment.

Which is why Nietzsche wished for those he cared about to go through suffering, desolation, indignities and self-contempt – because if they hadn’t, they couldn’t possibly have reached where they wanted to be.


Shyam mhaske

Sir it’s request you to please write one more post on upsc and thank you sir for your previous post about upsc it change my preparation completely.
Objectivity judgment , now at these movement
Unselfish action , now at these very movement
Willing acceptance – now at these very movement- of all external event .
That all you need.


I have read an article of yours on medium which tells, to do right things make them convenient, How one could make useful suffering convenient?


Same way you make anything convenient – easier to do. If you want to study more, keep your books open on the table rather than locked up. If you want to use social media less, deactivate your account or create a long password


MY question? How to endure sufferings for the process whose outcome is in future and that too very uncertain or unpredictable?


Uncertainty is a suffering, you’ll hardly find anything good that’s completely certain


This article is helpful to look at the bigger picture and nuances of it at the same time!


“Same for most roles – it’s rare to find anything where you like everything you do.”
On the whole, you would like the journey, else you wouldn’t make it – but to expect every moment of a grind to be pleasurable is delusional at best and entitled & hypocritical at worst.

This answer most of my questions.

Albeit, there is also a category which believes in Amor fati, yet is delusional in reality. Maybe somewhere in between the spectrum.

Nevertheless, with the same purpose to ease the pain of constant suffering, sometimes willing, mostly “unwilling” .


Sir, can we talk?


You can drop a mail or ask here if there’s anything.


I have mailed you! Hope to hear back from you soon 🙂


Be selective with the company you keep.
Try to shift the conversation if you don’t like it, or tune out if you can’t.
Maybe not 100%, but as much as you can.

Blessed Soul

I have created your Fan Page on instagram.
Do you have any problem ?
If Yes i will delete.
I think you had I’d on instagram but you probably deleted or Deactivated,
I know answer
Because i have read that blog why you don’t like being on Social media platforms.


Anushka Tiwari

Why did you choose UP cadre
Any specific reason ???
Why did you like UP only to serve as an Civil Servant.
i think no one has asked this question before So i can expect response from you.
I think you are in Hardoi ??


1)What is the antidote for negative thinking? How to extract positivity out of it so that even if one thinks in negative way ,it will give positive consequences?

2)While reading homo Deus, I read that the Buddha claimed the pursuit of pleasant sensation is root cause of suffering ,and pleasant sensation disappear as fast as they arise, so Buddha suggest to reduce our craving for pleasant sensation and just observe the happenings.

~Do you agree with this viewpoint?

~What do you understand by reducing the craving of pleasant sensation. Why one should reduce it?
If it is the right way to look at things then why should one make more efforts to achieve goals which mostly set to get pleasant sensation and can goals be set and followed without any craving for pleasant sensation ?


Would you like to share few of the tests answer copies of yours on sociology paper 1 and 2( want to get an idea about how the answer should be written)?


As mentioned in your youtube video of DKT regarding sociology you have shared a pdf in your blog about thinkers and their views in 2 to 3 lines that you have extracted from triumpias tests comments.

I have searched but I did not find it, will you share the link to that pdf, it will be helpful to me to write better answers.


I sincerely appreciate your guidance.

In middle class phenomenon- I’m not getting mentioned thinker Pawan Verma’s viewpoint- declining social responsibilities of middle class. What does he wants to convey?
( Middle class= citizenship= modernity, social responsibility means to follow civic sense, there is already lack of civic sense and it is declining means inequality in society is increasing– so from consumerism point of view Middle class is growing but social responsibility is lacking, is it right?, If this is what he wants to convey then his viewpoint on middle class resembles with Dipankar gupta and T H Marshall, is it right? )


“If you’re exactly where you want to be – that’s contentment.” **that’s Yog** not just a bunch of physical postures or breathing exercises but a union between our true self and the divine; every moment and every breath of bliss. If we could simply learn to breath then every moment is content ! The epicentre of nishkam karma is bhakti yog; to keep the divine at our heart and cut off all strings of attachment regarding any action done by our physical body but this is humongously easier said than done. It requires relentless practice of mantra Yog and at the heart of this technology is “grace” of a true Yogi Guru.


The lines right after that, including but not limited to –
“I love the one whose soul squanders itself, who wants no thanks and gives none back: for he always gives and does not want to preserve himself.” And the rest of them.
I think it has to do with ambition – ambition not for self-serving reasons, but to do something of worth. A bridge – not an end, but a continuous striving.


Not sure but it could be related to this essay. To take up suffering, maybe willingly, in other words going under, in order to go over.


Sir, shall we change preparation strategy for prelims or same strategy when you wrote a post on prelims.these days history got more weightage


dopamine is craving not high and lows. So dopamine is released in expectation of a reward, experiencing the actual reward is a different thing.

I will give 2 examples to understand the above implication-

  1. A boy approaches a girl, the higher the quality of the girl, more the chance of rejection but the higher the chance of happiness if successful
  2. preparation for a competitive examination- higher the toughness of the exam, the more the chance of failure

so Nietzsche asks to be prepared for troughs if you want the peaks. I think that’s what he meant. A state of tranquility is needed to work on the things you care about and that actually reward you. Dopamine depleted person will not be motivated to do the hard tasks like studying, exercising, etc.

but if he keeps his dopamine in balance, he will find joy in those tasks as well

[…] comes with rewards is easy, a relationship or a goal. But when it is something you are willing to suffer for, it’s worth […]