Skip to main content


Suffering is good for us 

A yoga session in Sardinia. Emanuele Perrone/Getty Images

There’s something “eerie” about the 21st century’s affluent classes, says James Marriott in The Times, with their “neurotic” aversion to the slightest suffering. Witness the “esoteric workout routines”, yoga, wild swimming and, especially in America, medication these people go in for. The desired state is “wellness”, a “perfect peace” of body and mind that’s meant to be not just “sublime”, but normal. Suffering is seen as a failure resulting from vague external forces such as capitalism or “modern life”. And it’s all underpinned by the bizarre idea that our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived in a glorious state of “low-carb, quasi-communist, gazelle-persecuting bliss” until they were corrupted out of Eden by the arrival of civilisation.

What nonsense. Hunter-gatherers had high child mortality rates and were vulnerable to wild animals, broken bones and natural disasters to a degree we “warm, sheltered, medicated modern humans” can scarcely imagine. Only thanks to civilisation can these people even begin to think discomfort is unusual. Suffering is inevitable, no matter how many mental handrails the “cult of safetyism” provides. Nothing is more human than to be “stressed, or envious or anxious or discontented or bored”. That’s why all great art is about suffering. The blandest people are always those for whom nothing has ever gone wrong: “We certainly do not need more of them.”