Just because pain is circumstantially beneficial doesn’t mean it is intrinsically desirable

Some people try to make sense of life’s difficulties by saying, “Pain helps us appreciate pleasure better. Bad times make good times sweeter.”

Certainly, pain can have beneficial results if seen positively. For example, being burnt deters us from approaching fire carelessly. A painful disease makes us value good health more. 

However, such benefits of pain are circumstantial, not intrinsic. If pain were inherently good, we would voluntarily expose ourselves to painful stimuli. But do we consciously choose to put our legs under an oncoming truck to better appreciate the blessing of functional legs? Or intentionally lose our money and become paupers to better appreciate prosperity? Or deliberately insult our loved ones and become lonely to appreciate good relationships? Our actions show that we don’t consider pain intrinsically desirable. 

Seeking to learn positive lessons from pain is good. But to learn the most positive lesson from pain, we need to unsentimentally acknowledge that pain is undesirable and ask why we are in a situation prone to pain when we long for pleasure. 

Gita wisdom answers by highlighting our existential predicament: we are eternal spiritual beings caught in ephemeral material bodies. We are trapped in this incompatibility because of our desire to enjoy matter. This desire is a misdirection of our original pure desire to rejoice in a loving relationship with Krishna, the all-attractive source of everything material and spiritual. 

Worldly pains are ultimately meant to prompt us to redirect our desire from matter to Krishna. We can redirect ourselves most expeditiously by practicing bhakti-yoga. Indeed, the Bhagavad-gita (08.15) assures that if we become devoted to Krishna, we go beyond this world of misery to his joyful indestructible abode. 

When we thus see both pain’s circumstantial benefits and its intrinsic undesirability, we can respond to pain most positively.  


Think it over:

  • How do our actions show that we don’t consider pain intrinsically desirable?
  • How can we learn the most positive lesson from pain?
  • What is the ultimate purpose of pain?



08.15 After attaining Me, the great souls, who are yogīs in devotion, never return to this temporary world, which is full of miseries, because they have attained the highest perfection.

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Be mindful of people's perceptions, but don't make your mind full of their perceptions
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