I’m not going to waste any time jumping into this topic, and I’ll start by saying I don’t trust anyone who tells me “Life is Pain,” particularly in cases where they’re saying it as if a motto to live by.
I’ve seen a lot of talk recently over the troubles of life and how not everything is rainbows and sunshine and puppies and kittens playing and having fun. Much of this talk has been in regards to the flow and quality of fictional stories and their general mood, but I’m going to take a step back from that and speak in terms of real life before digging into the books.
So, life is pain, huh? You know, there’s no denying that numerous parts of life hurt, and they hurt pretty damned badly. You didn’t get that job you needed and you don’t have the money coming in to pay the bills, so everyday is just a whirlwind of you trying to get by however you possibly can. People around you may be judgemental in some way, but you don’t have the resources necessary to cut them from your life by moving–or just getting a restraining order. It’s extremely difficult to get what you want if you’re not willing to put in the sweat, tears, and perhaps even the blood to acquire it.
Everyone has pain, even when you look at them and think they live such a perfect existence. Their pain may not be something that would hurt you if the shoe was on your foot (for example, someone with a high paying job may be extremely hurt that they didn’t get that promotion they’d been pining for, while you would be happy just to have the high paying job from the start). But it still hurts, and when we say “the grass is greener on the other side of the fence,” this is really just another way of saying, “we want to trade one set of problems for another.”
I mean honestly, problems are everywhere, and if you think you can live without them? Well, here’s a wake up call; that’s just not going to happen. (If it does, please contact me with instructions on how to set up this perfect life!)
In any case, the point is that yes, life can deal out some pain for sure. But to say, “Life is pain”? This is an unrealistic and gross overstatement that really needs to be tempered.
Now, before you assume I’m just some naive lady who’s never experienced the bad, allow me to present some of my general “credentials”. I’ve suffered from OCD since I was seven years old, and was diagnosed with clinical depression at 18 when a nervous breakdown sent me into a horrible state of being for quite a long time afterwards–and I’m not going to go into much detail over it because it’s a period of my life I’d rather not touch on casually. I’ve struggled with weight for most of my life, and in turn, struggled with other people’s attitudes toward me because of it. Poverty? My father filed for bankruptcy in 2005-06, so I’m definitely no stranger to having very little along the lines of money.
Then, in 2013, not a week before I self-published my first book, my father passed away. He never even knew I was working to be a published author.
But despite all of the tragic moments in my life, I still think the phrase “life is pain” is a gross overstatement. Why? Because not all of it is. I’ve had some very wonderful moments in my life as well, and though sure, I sometimes judge things from the perspective of the bad that has happened to me, I also take the time to recall the good.
Back in the late 90s and early 2000s, we had a word for people who always focused on their pain and suffering; emo (and no, I’m not talking about people who are clinically depressed, which puts the focus on the bad all the time whether we want it to be there or not). I’m talking about those who only focus on the pain they suffer because it’s “trendy”, or because they’re honestly just looking for attention and pity. To listen to them speak, nothing good ever happens to anyone ever, and there’s just no reason to go on. Life is pain and anguish and ugh why me?
It’s a cynical view, and I can definitely understand when someone has had so much bad happen to them that it literally drowns out the light. Sometimes, we even block out that light on purpose because we’re so afraid of something else bad happening to us that we don’t want to reach out where more danger could exist. It’s hope versus despair, and how much strength we might possess to push on and improve things, or if we just give up because “problems are everywhere”.
The thing most people don’t realize is that “hope is everywhere”, too. You might scoff and say hope isn’t enough, or that it’ll drive someone insane when what they hope for just never comes to pass–and this does happen, I won’t lie. It’s hard to keep hope when it seems like you never catch a break.
But it’s also possible to hold onto it and keep pushing forward no matter what. The author J.K. Rowling of the Harry Potter Series is probably the best example of this. She went through some very tough times, was on welfare and suffered in an abusive marriage. She did, in fact, hit rock bottom–but she pushed forward, published her stories, and if you want to judge success by wealth, then she became one of the wealthiest authors in the world. There was very likely points where she actually lost hope as well, but she still worked to accomplish her goals.
With that said, we can also set ourselves up for disappointment. By setting the bar too high, we sometimes don’t realize we’re actually succeeding as it’s happening. For example, I’m a self published author who would love to be a best seller, and it would be easy for me to think of myself as nothing but a failure when I hardly see any sales or get many reviews. But that would be the equivalent of jumping from A to Z instead of taking the time out to notice all the letters in between. Before I can become a best seller, I have to get my books noticed, and while I don’t sell books everyday, or get many reviews, I do sell them and receive feedback.
It’s all in the steps to success.
So! That’s a very brief summation of why “Life is Pain” is just … wrong. Now, moving onto the books, as I’d stated, I’ve seen this whole pain-game-thing being commented on in regards to fictional stories a lot recently, and the argument is basically that any story with an HEA or HFN (Happily Ever After or Happy For Now) ending is just unrealistic. Naturally, this argument plays against the Romance Genre pretty often because Romance, at it’s fundamental core, is all about the happy ending. Someone picks up a mystery book expecting to solve a mystery, and people most certainly read romances expecting to see two (or more!) characters fall in love and living their lives together.
But, according to those who’d tell you that life is pain, this is unrealistic, and as such, Romance just isn’t a real genre, and the stories aren’t up to par in comparison to other fictional tales. After all, in order for a story to be good (and realistic), the hero has to die at the end because hey, that’s just the way the monkey swings. Fiction isn’t about fantasy and adventure, after all, it’s all about the real world and how things realistically happen.
I also wonder, if all stories ended with the hero dying regardless of the outcome of their efforts, how quickly we’d get bored with every story and start pining for something different.
So honestly, this whole “life is pain” wagon people are currently riding is taking the element of surprise and intrigue out of fiction altogether. I mean, if all we’re able to write is horribly tragic tales of people suffering and gaining nothing in the end, why should we even write at all? Nothing different ever happens, so we know the ending, making it pointless to pick up the book to begin with.
Additionally, if realism is an argument you’re going to make, then stories vary, just as people’s lives vary. Some people may experience more success than others, and some books have a happier ending than others, and trying to argue that a book is bad, or isn’t even a real story, because it has a happy ending is like saying someone’s dog doesn’t make a good cat because it’s only wearing a costume and refuses to meow.
It’s judging an apple on the basis of being an orange. You can’t accurately assess a romance on the grounds of being a tragedy just as you can’t critique a tragedy on the grounds of being a good self-help book. So if what you’re wanting is sadness and pain, go read Romeo and Juliet, or any number of books out there with a tragic ending, and leave the rest to the people who’d like to enjoy it.