Life is difficult; being miserable may be optional.

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“Life is difficult.

“This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

So begins M. Scott Peck in his book, The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth. In the nearly-40 years since first published the concepts have greatly influenced millions of readers and the general field of psychology.

Peck, a classically trained psychiatrist who had little interest in religion, noted that his patients sometimes rose above their pain and suffering to become much better, much richer than they had been prior to the “problem” for which they sought help.

Such successes were not limited to those who sought psychotherapy or counseling. In fact, traditional psychotherapeutic techniques seldom contributed to their growth and success. Acceptance of the circumstances from which they sought relief (loss, poor health, etc.) was often the first and most significant thing that helped to reduce suffering.

The author went on to explain that we all suffer genuine pain as we have difficulties in life. But such “legitimate suffering” is usually compounded by our thinking that this should not happen to us or that it is not fair. The secondary (illegitimate) suffering often outweighs the pain of the actual “problem”.

Our efforts to wish, hope, demand, plead, complain or demand that that our circumstances be changed keeps us ruminating—running in circles in our minds—and therefor preoccupied with the difficulty. As a result we find little or no relief. The problem of having a problem comes to dominate our lives.

Peck urges the reader to turn her/his efforts to simply accepting things as they are, or at least put our efforts into changing those things that can while accepting the rest.

Of course this concept is not new. Zen Buddism embraces this notion, as does most mindfulness practice. Recovery programs like Alcoholics Anonymous has long included recitations of such principles, which were based upon observations from both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.

But, as Peck’s title suggests, few choose to travel upon this road. It is unnatural for human beings to accept distasteful or difficult circumstances.

It may be even more difficult in our Western culture, where so much has been accomplished by relocating to overcome undesirable circumstances, and changing the face of the inhospitable land to provide for oneself and others.

We often pride ourselves in changing things that can be changed but fail miserably—literally—at accepting that which cannot or should not be changed.

“The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.”

The Road Less Travelled addresses the mysteries of love and of divine grace—interesting subjects for a scientist and avowed non-Christian (a condition he changed in his later life).

“I define love thus: The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”

If I love my children, he suggests, I am committed to their development—even if it means allowing them to hurt in the process. Love, as he defines it, is not an emotional response but an intentional response to needs despite what one might be feeling.

He continues, “Genuine love is volitional rather than emotional. The person who truly loves does so because of a decision to love. This person has made a commitment to be loving whether or not the loving feeling is present. …Conversely, it is not only possible but necessary for a loving person to avoid acting on feelings of love.”

And this leads into one of Peck’s most compelling theses: a truly scientific approach (objective, logically linking observable phenomena, testable via experimentation) leads one to conclude that the universe is directly, frequently, and intentionally influenced by a loving Creator. This Creator must genuinely love us as that would be the only reason to be so actively involved in our lives.

He states strongly that it must be that we are “gods in embryo”, literally intended to become just like him; otherwise there would be no reason for what happens on the earth. a. “God wants us to become Himself (or Herself or Itself). We are growing toward godhood. God is the goal of evolution.”

Startling stuff from an irreligious psychiatrist, eh?

Of course these little snippets cannot do justice to Peck’s masterwork. But that won’t stop me from touching on some of his other ingenious points in another column.

Do yourself or a loved one a favor: pick up a used copy of The Road Less Travelled at, or at the library.

Sure it will take some effort. It might even be a little difficult. Get over it!


About the Author:

Michael Williams is a licensed psychotherapist, a Marriage and Family Therapist with over 25 years' experience. A specialist in quickly improving important relationships, he is also an expert in helping clients to quickly overcome problems with anxious, depressed or irritable moods.

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