the beauty of pain

The world remembers many names,
but does it know their faces?
Does it know their stories?
Can it see their traces?


Boulevard des Capucines, by Claude Monet (1874)

Claude Monet

Claude Monet, impressionist painter ( 1840-1926) was in dire financial straits and dealt with depression for much of his life. In 1868 he tried to commit suicide by throwing himself into the Seine. He also frequently got frustrated with his work. It is said he destroyed as many as 500 of his paintings by burning, cutting, or kicking them. He once wrote that, “Age and chagrin have worn me out. My life has been nothing but a failure, and all that’s left for me to do is to destroy my paintings before I disappear.”


starry night

Starry Night, by Vincent Van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh

Van Gogh, impressionist painter (1853-1890) lived a tortured life. He was a shy, emotional child plagued by epilepsy and low self-esteem. Throughout his life, he battled depression and mental illness. In 1888 he cut off his own ear, and two years later he died by a self-inflicted gun-shot wound. One of his most famous works, Starry Night, was finished shortly before his death.


Beethoven Sketch, 1818

Ludvig Van Beethoven

Ludvig Van Beethoven, musician and composer (1770-1827) was appointed court musician to Maximillian Franz in France at the age of 14. During his lifetime, he composed nine symphonies, nine concertos, and a variety of other orchestral music. Beethoven began to go deaf in his prime, a condition which nearly broke his heart. “For two years I have avoided almost all social gatherings because it is impossible for me to say to people ‘I am deaf.’ If I belonged to any other profession it would be easier, but in my profession it is a frightful state . . .”


Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein, physicist (1879-1955) frequently cut classes to study on his own at the Polytechnic Institute in Zurich, Switzerland. This did not go over well with his professors. One in particular wrote him a “recommendation letter” that prevented him from getting a job and marrying the woman he loved, Mileva Maric, after his graduation. Eventually the couple married (against their families’ wishes) but later divorced. In 1932 Einstein fled Germany to avoid the Nazis and moved to the United States where he remained for the rest of his days.

"To be or not to be?" A question through the ages.

“To be or not to be?” A question through the ages.

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare, poet and playwright (1564-1616) married Anne Hathaway at age 18; Hathaway was eight years older and pregnant. Was it a shotgun wedding? No one is certain, but, when Shakespeare moved to London sometime around 1590, he didn’t take his family. Was there an affair? Were there a few? Was he bisexual? Some of his work seems to suggest it. An artist’s best inspiration comes from real life.

Symphonie n° 31 en ré majeur, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Symphonie n° 31 en ré majeur, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Amadeus Wolfgang Mozart

Amadeus Wolfgang Mozart, musician and composer (1756-1791) was a child prodigy and experienced great musical success throughout in life. Despite this, Mozart was usually buried in debt and frequently experienced “black thoughts” and deep depression. Historians believe he may have had a “cyclothymiacs personality with manic-depressive tendencies.” Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died on December 5, 1791 at the age of thirty-five.


How’s that for a list of “heroes”? And that’s only the beginning.

Kind of throws a kink in my “pursue what you love and the world will be a better place” idea, doesn’t it?

Or does it?

I guess it depends on what you mean by “a better place.” Many people think life is all about being happy: So long as you are happy (and, in turn, are doing what you can to help others be happy), this world is a wonderful place. I can’t say I disagree. The question, though, is what exactly do we mean by “happy”? Is happy having all the “toys” we want and exotic vacations and plenty of money to spare? Is it life immortal and hearts unbroken and days on end free from care?

Or is it something else?

There’s a great quote from G.K. Chesterton in his book Orthodoxy: “He admired youth because it was young and age because it was not.”

No one anywhere has ever managed to avoid getting older, and no one has ever lived a life free from pain. And, honestly, I’m not even sure we’d really want to. With age comes experience, and with experience, wisdom. There is beauty in pain. Monet and Van Gogh saw it. Beethoven did. Einstein and Mozart and Shakespeare did, too. Pain is what makes us grow. It gives us perspective. It produces perseverance.

The hardest things I’ve ever been through are the things that have made me, me and allowed me to better relate to you.

Marine Near Etretat (1882), by Claude Monet

Marine Near Etretat (1882), by Claude Monet

Cafe Terrace at Night, by Vincent Van Gogh

Cafe Terrace at Night, by Vincent Van Gogh

Handwritten musical score by Beethoven

Handwritten musical score by Beethoven


Einstein’s notebook

Image Credits: Pinterest

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58 thoughts

  1. Also… these men persisted (to varying degrees) despite their circumstances; all of them produced something amazing and are remembered years or decades or centuries later because of them.
    No one would be interested in making the world a better place if nearly everyone’s circumstances were Jell-O and pudding.

  2. Beautifully done. It’s true (to me, at least) that “An artist’s best inspiration comes from real life.” And I believe a great artist’s inspiration stems from passion, which can only come from real life.

      • Not so! I find your posts extremely intelligent, insightful and more over very interesting. I find it hard to believe there is no passion behind what you write. Or, if it is as you say (which I sincerely doubt) then my statement is wrong.

      • Haha! I guess that came out wrong. (I was tired.) I meant that the posts I write without passion are dull and dead, not that all of my posts are without passion. On the contrary. These days I won’t post anything unless I feel pretty strongly about it. Thank you so much for your kind words. :)

  3. Thought provoking post. An ongoing question in my household is whether pain is necessary to achieve greatness. More often than not, I find the answer is yes…

  4. I loved this post, Jess! It is magically written. The insightful post clearly shows you understand the secret of the secrets. Well done! :-)

    I totally agree with you, and thank you for adding some new information to all of us. You may want to add Jalaluddin Rumi and Kahlil Gibran on the list. Unlike what most people have wrongly presumed, the life of those masters were far from happiness. Gibran himself, for example, had a life full of sufferings: acute poverty, the frequent loss of family members, relationship failure, and finally alcohol addiction. Rumi’s life, was not that bad. But he also had his own pain when Shams Tabriz, his loyal companion and his source of Light, left him. Rumi then lived a life of desperate longing for Shams presence. However, the two masters managed to get out the most of their life and created their masterpieces: Gibran with The Prophet, and Rumi with Mathnawi. I discussed this topic quite a while ago with a dear friend, and we came up with the same idea with you that “pain is what makes us grow” because it helps illuminate our heart with Light to produce our greatest art.

    Well done again. Make a short story from this, I’m sure it’d be a wonderful read! ♥

    • Yes, Subhan. I know I left out many important people. Gibran and Rumi are two excellent examples. There are thousands more. I still feel there are holes in this post. I could have gone off on several different tangents, such as how brilliance borders on insanity, how it’s sometimes better to live a balanced “normal” life than to be too strongly gifted in one area, or, as Lucas mentioned, the fact that happiness should be a byproduct of doing something worthwhile with our lives rather than a goal… But, alas, I chose the direction that I did, and I’m sticking with it.

      Thank you for your kind words. I’m sure there are lots of short stories in my future. I always enjoy reading yours. :)

    • Jess, no, don’t worry about it. I guess if you want to cover several different tangents, you could still do it in a different post. I found it a lot more powerful when we try to handle one topic in a post, rather than attempting on covering several different things in one post. It’s more handy. But it’s just my opinion, feel free to disagree.

      I agree with the idea that happiness is a byproduct. Also, I guess the term “happiness” itself also varies and means different thing in different cultures. As an aspiring artist, I personally try to think that it is working on the art that we love that makes us happy. And when we can relate to people or people relate to us through our art, then it is one that adds to the vibrancy of our happiness. What do you think? What’s your experience?

      I am looking forward to reading your short stories. I am sure I will enjoy them. I have just been learning how to write short stories in English, which is not my first language, in the past a year, so you may find many holes in my posts, and I am sure I can learn a lot from you when your short stories come up. I tend to use the term flash fiction, for short stories that go between 300-600 or 700 words and are published in blogs, but my mentor disagreed with me and told me to stick with the term “short story”. I guess I am just trying to learn from Paulo Coelho, who is very effective in conveying his message through short stories. The development of characters in his stories is very minimal but he is very succinct when it comes to short story-telling, something that we all can learn from. Check out and take a look at some short stories in there for some comparison. :-) What do you think?

      • Haha, okay, I’ll answer in parts.

        Yes, I agree that it’s usually best to stick to one topic per post. More than that and you’ll lose your poignancy and people’s attention. I try to keep my posts at less than 750 words, though sometimes (as with my rock-climbing stories) I had to go longer.

        Thank you for the reminder of the differences in the happiness is viewed in different cultures. I completely agree. I have been looking for a way to shift to writing about my experiences in Asia. I think I just found it. (Thank you!) And, yes, I feel happiness comes as a byproduct of a) doing the things we love, but, more than that, b) focusing on others and understanding the world around us. If we can do both of these through the thing we love, then we are blessed, indeed.

        I think “flash fiction” is a catchy title for “short story.” There’s nothing wrong with that. You do very well writing in a language that is not your own. I’m impressed! I couldn’t do it. I’ve read a little of Paulo Coelho’s work, namely, “The Alchemist.” You’re right—he’s an effective storyteller thought not much of a character developer. I’ll definitely have to check out his blog! I’ll get back to you about what I think.

        Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts! Hope you’re having a wonderful weekend. :)

  5. Well said. CS Lewis wrote, “Do not let your happiness depend on something you may lose… only (upon) the Beloved who will never pass away.” Happiness is not a thing to be attained, not a target in itself. It’s a byproduct.

  6. Kind of throws a kink in my “pursue what you love and the world will be a better place” idea, doesn’t it?

    Or does it?

    I guess it depends on what you mean by “a better place.”

    – Brilliant. I was reading through the artist blurbs and developing my own line of thought and then you wrote this and shook it all up. This is a great question to consider and you presented it in a powerful way. I like your definition of a better place, that which is obtained through experience (especially the hard kinds). My initial reaction to the question about throwing a kink in your better place idea was to consider motivation and intent. I think intent is important in determining whether or not the journey will be joyful. But also that there does need to be some perspective of enjoying the journey and not simply focusing on the destination. Something from the Music Man about piling up a whole lot of empty yesterdays seems to fit. Not necessarily a carpe diem approach, but kind of, with a more long term perspective.

    Anyway, thought provoking post! Thanks!

    • And thank *you* for your thought-provoking comment!

      I agree with your thoughts regarding motivation and intent. That is, of course, part of it, too. And I’ve always been one to think that life is about the journey, not about the destination. Really, it can hardly be any other way… The “empty yesterdays” idea fits perfectly. I haven’t seen the Music Man. I think it’s about time I look it up.

      • Good for you! I’m definitely not ahead, but now setting time aside each day to read, which is far better than I used to do. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • I was stunned as I was researching this post by just how vast the collection of both Monet and Van Gogh’s artwork is. Monet painted more than two thousand paintings (and that doesn’t include the ones he destroyed), and Van Gogh did more than 900 paintings and thousands of sketches on the side. (“The Hague” is one of my favorites.) And of course that doesn’t include all of the other impressionist painters of the time. I would love that museum.

  7. Well, as they say ‘no pain, no gain’. For me, Happiness is a state of mind. One can be happy even with a dollar in his pocket. Furthermore, in this life, there will always be success and failures. These are necessary to make us a better individual…. this is ‘the beauty of living’

    • We think alike. I am realizing (thanks to your and everyone else’s comments) that I am not done writing about this topic yet. Yes, happiness is a state of mind. In this post I was simply trying to highlight how many people often associate happiness with “things.” And you’re right—there will always be successes and failures. How could we even appreciate success if we’d never experienced the opposite?

      Thank you for your thought-provoking comment. :)

  8. These are great insights into the human condition, I concur with you that the painful moments of my life have made me the person I am and, as you astutely noted, “allowed me to better relate to you.”

    • Thank you. I guess we all feel that way, when we stop to think about it. Sometimes we do or go through things we regret and would have preferred to have avoided, but, really, the opportunity to learn and gain insight from past experiences is priceless.

  9. I knew all these stories of course Jessica, but they seem more powerful compiled together like this. Makes me wonder how much different our world would have been, if all these men hadn’t pursued greatness with passion and had settled for a complacent, comfortable existence with relatively less anguish! Do we really have a choice? Is a balance wishful thinking?
    Thank you for a wonderfully thought provoking post :-)

    • An interesting question: What would the world be like if they hadn’t…? Another part of this is just how close “genius” is to insanity. In some ways we are lucky if we are more balanced naturally instead of being incredible gifted in one area or another. The men mentioned in this post may *not* have had a choice about living a “balanced life.” All interesting thoughts, indeed.

      Thanks for your wonderful comment!

  10. that’s true art..and we can say nature. jessica you posted wonderfully with full of art..this is showing we should learn from the masters.. :) thanks’

  11. I think this may be my favorite post of yours so far Jessica and can only echo what so many wrote above. And the GKC quote was a nice touch indeed! Beethoven and Mozart are two of my favorite figures in history as well as composers, and have long known the downsides to their story. I have more I want to write you on this subject but unfortunately do not have the time today. Loved this post.

    • Thank you so much, Jeff. Your comment means the world. I’m glad I was able to touch something in you with this. I love G.K. Chesterton and all of the figures mentioned in this piece. So glad to keep in touch.

  12. I saw the post few days ago, but prefered to read it in quiet & comfortable place .
    when i read about some scientists I feel sorry for some them , especially who discovered new things but didn’t get what he deserve while he was alive because people in his time didn’t know how important it was. Yes, pain we could learn from it , or get tied by it , and this is the different!

    • You are so right, Abdul! Everyone has a choice. We all experience pain in one way or another. Will we let it hold us down? Or will we learn from it and move on? Thank you for your nice comment!

  13. Dear Jessica,

    It is my great pleasure to nominate you for the “Very Inspiring Blogger Award”. You have surely earned this recognition, along with my great respect, mainly because of your wonderful writing that has truly inspired many all around the world. Please keep up your excellent work, and thanks for being around in the Blogosphere. You do make the difference.

    The rules are (as I understand) –

    1. Display The Very Inspiring Blogger Award logo on your blog. You can download it from

    2-Link back to the person who nominated you.

    3-State 7 things about yourself.

    4-Nominate 15 other bloggers for this award and link back to them.

    5-Notify those bloggers of the nomination and the award requirements.



    • Thank you very much, Deo. I am honored. I’ve been nominated for a few awards now, but haven’t actually officially accepted them because I’m planning to dedicate a special page to them. Am working on it. Thank you for taking the time to read my blog, and for your kind words. It means the world to me.


  14. Congratulation Jessica, i hope your hard work will justify properly and completed you wishes… and you’ll make an award page, best of luck..and waiting to see your award and nomination pages…

  15. I have always loved Van Gogh. What doesn’t kill us will make us stronger. Pain is everywhere. Either we will get better or get bitter.

    Here is a beautiful poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins:

    ‘Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend’

    Justus quidem tu es, Domine, si disputem tecum; verumtamen
    justa loquar ad te: Quare via impiorum prosperatur? &c.

    Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend
    With thee; but, sir, so what I plead is just.
    Why do sinners’ ways prosper? and why must
    Disappointment all I endeavour end?
    Wert thou my enemy, O thou my friend,
    How wouldst thou worse, I wonder, than thou dost
    Defeat, thwart me? Oh, the sots and thralls of lust
    Do in spare hours more thrive than I that spend,
    Sir, life upon thy cause. See, banks and brakes
    Now, leavèd how thick! lacèd they are again
    With fretty chervil, look, and fresh wind shakes
    Them; birds build – but not I build; no, but strain,
    Time’s eunuch, and not breed one work that wakes.
    Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain.

    • I love that poem. And Hopkins. Thank you for sharing! Alas, Van Gogh’s life ended far too soon—it’s true: pain is everywhere. I love his work, too.

    • Indeed… To be able to do what you love is a blessing, but at what cost? Most people who are extremely talented in one area tend not to be well rounded. Is it better to be “normal”? Or is their pain (and ours) – channeled correctly – a gift to the world? Is it a gift any of us would choose for ourselves? So many questions. Thanks so much for reading. It *is* good to know we’re not alone. Blessings to you! :) Jess

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