What Elizabeth Kubler-Ross Can Teach Us about Life, Happiness and Pain

Note: This is a guest post by Michael Miles of Effortless Abundance.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross was a Swiss born psychiatrist who spent much of her career writing and speaking about illness, death and dying. Kubler-Ross, who wrote the famous book, On Death and Dying, developed the idea of the stages of grief at a time when the medical establishment was largely refusing to address these issues.

Her work on death is monumental in scope and importance, and through her writing comes an immense humanity, compassion and wisdom. She has much to teach us about our daily life.

“You will not grow if you sit in a beautiful flower garden, but you will grow if you are sick, if you are in pain, if you experience losses, and if you do not put your head in the sand, but take the pain as a gift to you with a very, very specific purpose.”

The message here is that we can learn from every experience, and that in fact every experience can be regarded as a gift. This, perhaps, is a hard thing for us to hear – we have been conditioned to think of illness and pain in a negative way and we try to avoid suffering at all costs. But all growth involves pain and so perhaps we should be less eager to shy away from it, learning instead to welcome it and take something of value from these experiences.

“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.”

I once read a beautiful description of the sun shining through the branches of a tree. When the tree is in full foliage, the light cannot get through, but in winter, when the tree is stripped of its leaves and only the bare branches remain, the sunlight can shine through to the other side. Our suffering can teach us profound lessons and allow us to be more sensitive and to add more value to the world. Through our suffering we can become more than the shallow and selfish consumers we often associate with being successful.

“I believe that we are solely responsible for our choices, and we have to accept the consequences of every deed, word, and thought throughout our lifetime.”

If we wish to live a good life, we cannot abdicate responsibility for our lives to someone or something else. We cannot allow other people or circumstances to pull our strings. Realizing that we are in control, frightening though this may seem, is the first step to an authentic, actualized life. This proactivity, as Viktor Frankl calls it, is the cornerstone of all personal productivity, and is the first of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

“There are no mistakes, no coincidences, all events are blessings given to us to learn from.”

Viktor Frankl wrote that ‘man’s search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life’ and we all have a purpose which, to use Frankl’s language, we have to ‘detect.’ It appears that the unique circumstances of our life are oriented to enable us to detect this meaning, which is different for each of us.

Why, then, spend so much time worrying about all the apparently terrible things which happen the world? It is enough for me that I grow and learn from the experiences of my own life, using my own unique challenges and difficulties to construct a meaningful and fulfilled life. How do I know why my neighbor is experiencing a certain kind of problem? This is his concern, and his alone.

“There is no need to go to India or anywhere else to find peace. You will find that deep place of silence right in your room, your garden or even your bathtub… Learn to get in touch with the silence within yourself and know that everything in this life has a purpose.”

We can pursue happiness in external things – money, success, career, social achievements, religion, even family. But happiness will elude us until we realize that it is not to be found ‘out there’ – it is not something to be acquired, but rather it is found in the silence of our inner world. It is found in the quiet place at the center of our selves, and this silence is available to us every moment. The outside world can only be truly enjoyed when we have come to this realization.

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity and an understanding of life that fills them with compassions, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

We have a task to perform here on earth. It is not to do with the acquisition of property, money or worldly success.  Although I believe that these things are good in themselves and that striving for them is a worthy pursuit, there is a deeper purpose to our lives, and this purpose is usually (perhaps always) arrived at through suffering and pain of some kind. In the words of Nietzsche, ‘Was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich starker,’ That which does not kill me, makes me stronger.

Michael Miles writes at http://effortlessabundance.com.

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About the Author

Henrik Edberg is the creator of the Positivity Blog and has written weekly articles here since 2006. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Gothenburg and has been featured on Lifehacker, HuffPost and Paulo Coelho’s blog. Click here to learn more…

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • I enjoyed this article it was insightful on the perspective of beginning with the end in mind. Looking back on your life what really matters at the end and are you working towards a meaningful life?

    Also all the people that I admire in my life have gone through struggles and endured to do great things be it serving others , making money, starting up organizations, etc. It is true the most beautiful people in my life are the ones who do go through struggles and make it through.

  • Hi Michael,

    Thank you sharing such wonderful lessons to remind us that how beautiful everything can be and that it’s our responsibility to turn every negative into something positive.

    It may not be easy. Nonetheless, it is not mission impossible. :)



  • Thanks for this post. I especially liked the point that we naturally start to blossom as people when we finally find what we’re here to do in this life. I didn’t believe that for many years, but now that I’m doing it myself really incredible things have been happening for me.

  • Thank you for writing about this! I’ll be sure to read more of the work of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.

  • Great article. Reminded me how important it is to live in the Now and take each moment one at a time. Every moment is a blessing.

  • Something that hurt you but not kill you will make you stronger. It always happens, people just sometimes do not realize it. Don’t you agree?

  • “Overcome any bitterness because you were not up to the magnitude of the pain entrusted to you. Like the mother of the world, you are carrying the pain of the world in your heart.”, so goes a Sufi song.
    It has lately dawned on me that I stand at the gates of awakening, borne on the wings of my despair. The painful truths of life have become a sacred gateway, opening me to a great compassion. The blow of tragedy, the devastation of losses (of my innocence, of a person) have actually returned me to my journey towards spirit. As though in a deeper octave, this dimension of awakening opens me up to the pain of the world. Buddha calls it the “Awakening of the gate of sorrow”.

    There is no magic formula to reduce despair, but I seem to handle it better by being more compassionate. Compassionate not only in the face of the pain of any other being, but compassion for myself as well.

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful piece by Mr. Miles.

  • Thank you for encouraging me this morning; coming here always lifts my spirits.

  • thank you for a great article.It has helped me see my worries in a new perspective.

  • “One who gains strength by overcoming obstacles possesses the only strength which can overcome adversity.” – Albert Schweitzer.

    I have overcome pain and deep depression, it has made me a stronger person.

    This article is encouraging. We all have a purpose for being here on earth, some of us take a lifetime to discover it. I believe I am here to help others and to live in peace and tranquility.

  • Mary Lou

    I agree with all Ms. Kubler-Ross has said. Maybe being trained religiously, I have always had the big picture in mind… not to waste my time, but to use it wisely, and to help others.

    Unfortunately, sometimes that same religious training makes you feel selfish for pursuing a different path, even if it is only following a career not allowed previously to women, and blaming oneself for all that has happened to oneself.

    It is hard to find the clearer route, but yes, we are responsible for our lives…noone else can step in and live them or fix them for us…we must be mindful of all we do, but live in the moment and enjoy, like our pets…we only have today!