Is the universal human condition one of eternal suffering or one that dares to tempt joy?
Is it our despair that makes us human or is it our happiness?
You must pick one or the other to argue your point.

Giving both suffering and joy equal weight as the fair marks of
humanity is having it all and that is obvious and ordinary.

No life is lived in pure divisions of exactly 50%. There must be a
shading one way or the other and it is within that hue where the answer
is revered.


  1. I believe it’s a mixture of joy and suffering. We can’t have joy without a little suffering because it it was always all joy it wouldn’t feel so good when it’s good. We can’t have suffering without knowing joy and really feeling the true lack of a joy we once felt.

  2. Ok…I suppose. I think suffering is the most important. I think suffering toughens us up and teaches us the ways to cope. I think suffering is what eventually brings us to joy. How’s that?

  3. Hi Robin!
    Now that’s interesting you believe the universal human condition is one of suffering. I think that deserves more investigation.
    Tempting joy can be a dangerous proposition because it presupposes a natural claim to something that is not available in nature. Happiness must be constructed.
    Are we born into suffering or into joy? If we are born into suffering and hunger and vulnerability and the requirement of having to rely on others to survive — where does the drive for — or even the concept of — joy begin to come into our consciousness?

  4. I’m always the optimist, so I believe life is for us to tempt joy.
    Pain and suffering is just a temporary condition of life that we must figure out a way to overcome in order to find our happiness. Despair doesn’t make us human or even better, although it might make us stronger and better able to withstand the next round of suffering.
    All suffering is temporary and it is up to us to focus on happiness. Even in the midst of despair, it is not uncommon to find people experiencing the freedom of joy and happiness that makes our natural state. The human ability to find happiness even in the darkest of times shows that we are naturally inclined to be happy.
    It is the moments of joy that cause humanity to advance beyond today’s limits.

  5. What can I say? I’m a glass is 1/2 empty kind of girl. I believe I am more the sum of my mistakes, failures and pain than anything else. I am who I am by how I’ve suffered and the joy I’ve found most of the time I’ve had to work towards. I think it’s easier to suffer than to find joy most of the time…but this may just be how I personally see things.
    I think the concept of joy comes from wanting something other than suffering or getting little views of joy over the horizon. I think most joy comes from not being able to stand the suffering anymore.
    Boy I’m dark today.

  6. Chris —
    How did the idea come into you that living is to temp joy?
    I think the universal constant of the human condition is pain and suffering and while there may be moments of touching joy, that happiness is always fleeting and never constant — unless one is a joyous sycophant who can only find happiness in a world that is screaming suffering.
    How one can be happy in the midst of great human despair worldwide is a trick I have no yet been able to master.
    How do you reconcile your joy theory with, say, the Ethiopian famine:
    Is their famine really joy in disguise? Or is it all a matter of perspective: They’re happy, they just don’t know it as they’re dying?

  7. Hi Robin —
    I believe we are the sum of our mistakes, too. We are born into suffering and despair and few around the world know joy for even a moment.
    Education is one bright path to momentarily touching joy through the expoloration of thoughts of others and reading what has come before but we are always redacted back to the center — the alone — the cold and the dark that brought us into the world.
    Your idea of joy coming out of great suffering is quite interesting and it goes interestingly into the relgious core of the definition of “ecstasy” —

    1 : a state of being beyond reason and self-control through intense emotional excitement, pain, or other sensation : obsession by powerful feeling (in an ecstasy of pain — Ludwig Bemelmans) (whose eyes kept sweeping in an ecstasy of fear from side to side — Irwin Shaw)
    2 : a state of exaltation or rapturous delight manifested either demonstratively (sending their shrill, diamond-hard cries of ecstasy streaming across the streets — Kay Cicellis) or in a profound calm or abstraction of mind (a state of quiet ecstasy which illuminated his whole being — E.S.Bates)
    3 : a trance state in which intense absorption in divine or cosmic matters is accompanied by loss of sense perception and voluntary control (at the sight of a crucifix … she would at once fall into an ecstasy — Norman Douglas)

  8. Hi David,
    People can feel joy in the midst of a famine, war or other period of darkness.
    Our definition of happiness can vary depending on our frame of reference. If I’m in the middle of a famine, I’m joyous that I’ve survived another day. If I’m in a western country, I’m happy that I’m living a life relatively free of threat and filled with opportunities.
    While we might not realize our goal of life, liberty, and happiness because our world is flawed, we can still aim high and set our sights on accomplishing happiness.

  9. That’s an interesting take on the issue, Chris! I know there are some who suffer who prefer the joy tempted in death than living another day in famine or in whole-body pain that ruins their mind.
    I think joy is only ours to tempt — and to never have — but in that reaching up and out of the dismay and fear and loathing we learn about the existence of happiness but its joy is never ours to cherish or own or know forever because the human condition only survives in the dark and not in the light.

  10. I’ve read some say that people only feel human and alive when they are in the midst of war or some other catastrophe.
    Maybe we need the darkness to feel the joy?
    BTW — Did you see my draft for “Ghost Town?”

  11. That’s an interesting link, Chris.
    The darkness is the familiar we use to compare new experiences like joy and happiness.
    Yes, I see your draft online. I saw it yesterday afternoon and wanted to publish it immediately but I wasn’t certain if you were still working on it or not and I didn’t want to rush your revision/stewing process.

  12. Tough, but interesting question to answer David!
    I think “universal human condition” is a journey of learning and accepting reality and it cannot be one way or the other. But yes, speaking about the dominant side, I would say, its suffering – excluding any natural/ man made catastrophe.
    Want to smelt “iron” from “iron ore?” You need to run it through a blast furnace. Want to get refined gold to make jewelery? – there is no other way except melting it in a very high temperature. I do agree “Suffering” causes mankind to be skeptic, cynic and what not but at the same time I think “suffering” refines us. It is darkness that teaches us the value of light, it is the gloomy day that reminds us the bliss of sun – at least I see it this way. I always see the glass as “half full” – no matter where I am, but it is the “half empty” glass that taught me to enjoy the “half full” glass in life. It made me learn that way, instead of being critical and complaining.

  13. Hi Katha —
    Yes, this is a difficult question because you have to ponder both joy and despair in the same moment and level each against the other based on culture and education and system of believing.
    I like your metallurgy thesis, Katha, and iron is the only metal that becomes harder when immersed in water — that strange conundrum of opposite effects on a scientific level might just be a way to temper the expectation of joy against suffering. The suffering immersion tempers the heat of happiness into something new and specific to the self-valued.

  14. David,
    I understand your point of evaluating both the joy and despair on the basis of culture, education and system of believing. If I correctly remember your article on “swinging of pendulum” – we would see that nothing is perpetual in life, it just can’t be. What you learn from both of them and how you implement it is important.
    And thanks to both of you for the compliment! 😀

  15. Wow! this link is great! I didn’t know about it – thanks!

  16. Hi David,
    Here’s another archive piece that hits on the point of happiness: Most of My Friends are Medicated. I remember reading that 50 million+ people in the U.S. are on some sort of anti-depressant.
    I personally find that 10 mg of fluoxetine once daily keeps me pretty happy!
    I wonder if avoiding the “blast furnace” is something to worry about, however.

  17. Right you are, Chris! That “Medicated” piece was another interesting take on the matter at hand!
    I hope your 10mg are helping see you through the darkness.
    The “blast furnace” is always here for you.

  18. It’s amazing how the “blast furnace” is always just around the corner …
    I told my wife that I wish I had had the prescription 10 or 15 years ago. I’m wired to always be a little on “edge,” so it’s nice to have something to attenuate that natural tendency.
    Also, there’s something about the legal profession that either attracts depressed people or makes them depressed once they get into it. See Evan Schaeffer’s Legal Underground blog piece about depression and lawyers.

    It’s no secret that the legal profession attracts perfectionists and rewards perfectionism. Perfectionism drives us to excel in college, in law school, and on the job. But perfectionism has a dark side; it can produce “a chronic feeling that nothing is good enough.”

  19. Hi Chris —
    I feel for you and I am happy you found a way to chemically balance the need for perfectionism in your mind.
    Do you find your medication takes off too much of an edge? Do you get less precise in your work? Do your meds dull your drive or cloud your thought process in any way?

  20. Actually, I think it helps me out.
    I used to worry about things a little more than I really needed to worry about them, and the medication helps me with that.
    While my medication isn’t necessarily marketed to help with ADHD, it helps with that condition also. I don’t know if I’m ADHD, but I feel that I can concentrate better with the medication.

    Certain antidepressants, such as amitriptyline (Elavil), desipramine (Norpramin), buproprion (Wellbutrin), fluoxetine (Prozac), and sertraline (Zoloft), have also been found to be effective in ADHD, especially when ADHD is accompanied by depressive symptoms.

    The medication has helped out. I’m on a low dose, but it’s helped me to quit smoking, feel less stressed, and be able to increase my concentration.

  21. That’s wonderful news, Chris! It was brave of you to take that step and say, “Maybe I need some help” and with your background as a lawyer and father and author you will influence others here who read your experiences and might just curry up the courage to step forward and ask for professional help, too.

  22. I’m lucky that my wife suggested we get marriage counseling.
    If I hadn’t been involved in the counseling, I would have thought that feeling down was a sign of weakness or something that could be overcome through will power and effort.
    Sometimes, what we need is a little “tune up” that we aren’t able to perform for ourselves. Or if we try to fix ourselves, we do it in inappropriate ways, as you covered in Self Medicating Misery.

  23. Oh, and I’m so thrilled you stopped smoking! Whoo-hoo! That’s a huge lifesaver!
    Sometimes it takes a jolt to get the attention of the pre-occupied. It is a good thing you and your wife are able to talk about things in a safe place together.
    “Self Medicating Misery” was another post I’d misplaced in memory and I thank you for the pointer!

  24. No problem at all! “Self Medicating Misery” is a good piece for everyone to read.
    There’s nothing good about smoking, besides some of the social aspects of smoker’s comraderie. It damages the health and is getting super expensive in the city. A pack in Chicago runs around $8.00 now.

  25. That’s a lot of money for a pack of cigarettes, Chris!
    A week or so ago a smoking ban finally went into effect in New Jersey. There’s no smoking in restaurants or bars now — finally we can breathe again while dining out!

  26. I used to never think about it, but I try to pick restaurants that don’t allow smoking if I’m going out with the kids. It isn’t good for them to breathe in smoke.
    I agree with smoking bans in restaurants, but if the bar’s air can be separated from the restaurant, they should allowing smoking while drinking in the great American tradition of alcohol, tobacco and firearms!

  27. Chris —
    You’re right about not exposing the kids to smoke. It can be suffocating and it gets in their clothes and poisons them at home as well.
    I know people love to smoke and drink and shoot while doing it — those were the major requirements of the Civil War, I think!

  28. Wow… I missed this discussion. [Note to self: Need to get Internet @ home after buying a laptop]. I am now restricted to accessing everything under the aegis of the corporate network now!!
    That indeed was an amazing discussion to read :-D!
    Well, I agree we all base joy as the absence of sorrow [the analogy of light and darkness was very nice and pertinent]. And also if we agree, “to acheive joy, enlightenment, nirvana” is our objective in life, then we are also agreeing on the premise that “life is sorrowful by default”.
    What I’d like to put forward is the intensity of emotion that we feel of these two emotions. We remember joy! We remember them as the highlights of our life. We remember them as life. We don’t remember the sorrow we faced in life. Maybe because of its non-fleeting nature, its monotonous nature.
    Which is more important, as in what are we made up of – the sorrow or the joy? I think we are made up of a sum of the results of our sorrowful life. As in, we learnt something from a sorrowful experience, we imbibe it on to us, abutting it to make it a part of us.
    And as far as where I stand in the Half full/empty glass, I am a realist – I see the glass half-full, I’d drink it up :-D!

  29. Is the universal human condition one of eternal suffering or one that dares to tempt joy?
    If I look at my personal life, I dare to tempt joy; in fact, I live to pursue happiness. I am a firm believer in that if something does not work for me, then I should change what I am doing until I am joyful. Given the problems that I have in life, I am surprised that some consider me the happiest person they know. That’s frightening considering I have problems of my own, and if I am the happiest person they know, their life must be a lot worse.
    Another thing is what if suffering gives me joy? I like suffering, such as sacrificing a part of my life now in order to build a better future.

  30. GP —
    I do not think we find naturally ourselves in a state of joy. Many of us search for happiness but few find it and realize the experience throughout their lives.
    In fact, prisons are filled with those who tempted joy and failed. Those who are joyous and fulfilled do not punish their bodies or create selfish crimes against others.
    I don’t find Maslow particularly interesting. He places a bit too much bend on the importance of religion and transcendence for my taste.

  31. Thanks for the message, Jay!
    I’m not sure how one finds joy in suffering unless one is a masochist or self-hating — so I’d love to hear your personal take on the matter.

  32. No David, that was just a question that stemmed outta the thought process. Neither do I find Maslow indeed interesting! :-D!

    In fact, prisons are filled with those who tempted joy and failed. Those who are joyous and fulfilled do not punish their bodies or create selfish crimes against others.

    Why do you say that? Furthermore, being joyous and being fulfilled would be at two different degrees wouldn’t you agree? Being joyous, according to you would anyway be ephemeral!
    Yes, those who are joyous and fulfilled wouldn’t do such crazy things, unless of course, they are crazy.
    It would be really nice if you’d elaborate more on the prison topic David! :-)!

  33. GP —
    The point I was making about prisons is those people tempted joy and did not find what they were looking for and that turned them inward and ugly.
    The rest who dare to tempt joy find success in touching it — or as others here have argued — they touch it in the effort to tempt it.
    Criminals and prisoners are incapable of recognizing the joy in the tempting or in the touching and that it is that unwitting crushing that chains their lives to evil wells beyond mere suffering and into humiliation and extroverted danger.

  34. Id say its the despair that makes us human. Just because you live your life, based on how you deal with that despair. If you choose to do better, or have light at the end of your night, then anything is possible, keep thinking negative, and thats just how it will end up. Sorry if this makes no sense, just trying to explain myself.

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