I have come to realize that pleasure and pain are two ends of the same spectrum and feeling both is part of the human experience.
Nevertheless, most people spend so much time chasing pleasure and trying to avoid the pain that they cannot help but end up miserable. For example, a man might work tirelessly to afford a vacation, and become so focused on his pursuit of pleasure that he does not realize he is desperately unhappy in his day-to-day job. He lives in a perpetual state of conflict with himself.
Beneath the obsession with feeling good is a constant fear of feeling pain. This complicated relationship with pleasure and pain was a subject explored by psychologist and success coach Gay Hendricks in his 2009 book The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level. For example, a woman might work hard for many years to earn a promotion, only to subconsciously sabotage her own happiness by creating personal drama—such as having an extramarital affair—once she has finally achieved the promotion.
Humans are psychologically wired to pursue increased happiness, yet simultaneously predisposed to cause themselves pain after they get what they want. Hendricks calls this the Upper Limit Problem. Although he believes the upper limit can be overcome through the mere awareness that it exists, Buddhism teaches that it is more powerful for humans to accept and embrace the truth that pleasure and pain are equally necessary parts of the human experience.
We must learn to absorb and embrace pain, and to feel it in the same kind of complete, unselfconscious way that pleasure is experienced, is the only way to resolve internal strife. Rather than fighting pain when it is present, individuals must learn how to master it in the way Japanese judo masters confront an opposing force: by simply giving in to it. In order to learn how to embrace pain, people must realize that they are actually not separate from it.