Joy and pain

These are basic human instincts – to maximize joy and minimize pain. It sounds very simple when you say it out loud, but it is not simple at all. For example, is it OK to maximize your joy if it causes pain to others in the process? Is it possible to avoid working through pain or grief to get to joy on the other side? Yeah, it’s complicated.

If life is a theme park ride, make mine a roller coaster. There will be high highs and plunging lows, with plenty of unexpected twists and turns and upside down loops. And you don’t get the thrilling dive from the top unless you suffer the slow clickety climb up the hill first. Sometimes you have to feel pain or take risks to experience joy.

By contrast there is the carousel, or the merry-go-round as we called it. You sit on a fake horse that barely goes up and down, and it goes around and around and around. And then it goes around again.  It gets boring pretty fast.  What does the merry-go-round have going for it?  It’s safe and predictable and probably won’t make you throw up on your Power Ranger backpack.

So if the search for joy is a roller coaster, and the avoidance of pain is a merry-go-round, which ride are you riding in your life right now?

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19 Comments on “Joy and pain”


  1. I’m the roller coaster…
    And just when I think you’ve had enough,
    and I’m ready to get off the ride and take the calm, easy merry-go round…
    I change my mind, throw my hands in the air
    and ride the roller coaster all over again.
    That’s exhilaration…that’s living a bit on the edge…that’s being ALIVE.!

  2. margaretlynnspeck Says:

    Davey,
    Have you thought about how beautiful carousels can be? Their old-world charm? Riding them allows you to slow down and enjoy the peace and beauty of the moment… smile and wave at the spectators. Life doesn’t have to be one or the other. It should allow for both.
    MLS

    • davidgoad Says:

      That’s a refreshing perspective Margie! I must admit I alternate between the 2, and try to enjoy the quiet moments as well as the action-packed ones. But being stuck on the carousel for too long can make one hypnotically lethargic 🙂

  3. MrBesilly Says:

    In your metaphor, both the roller coaster and carousel have something in common that is notable. They both rely on a predetermined track – one goes slower and one faster, but both are bound to a pattern.

    Both are predicable and designed to minimize risk. No matter how many times you ride the roller coaster, the path does not deviate as is true with the carousel. Even the end can be anticipated to arrive at the same interval.

    Joy and pain are what we experience when when push off the rails of predicable and begin a journey that does not minimize risk. We would not know joy if not for the times of unpredictable pain. Most often coming when we least expect it.

    My own life spun off the rails over a year ago and so far it’s been the most exciting ride I’ve ever experienced. Imagine a roller coaster without rails and no clue of when it will come to a stop. I could not predict this new path or imagine it when I was “on track”. No matter how exciting or boring, I was still on track.

    Then imagine a carousel that spins slowly, but no longer in one stationary place. The pace is steady but the view is constantly changing. Let’s just say I get very few calls from friends wanting tickets to join me.

    Some months felt like I was churning in circles, others have left me breathless. I need both now. My greatest pains have produced authentic joy that I have not felt in years. I’m connecting now at either pace on a deeper level and learning to embrace both equally. Weather it be the peace and beauty of the carousel or the emotional intensity of a roller coaster – one of my greatest joys is seeing that I need not fear the pain any longer.

    Thanks for starting the conversation David.

    • davidgoad Says:

      Thanks Ray. Keep flapping your wings, you’re maintaining altitude pretty well 🙂
      I think “fearing pain” is the thing that has prevented growth for me at times in my life. I have also feared success… well what if I get to where I want to go and I am not good enough once I get there?
      Because of this, I generally need a push from friends before I initiate big life changes. Perhaps the ideal amusement park ride for me would be a giant slingshot that launches me out of the park altogether?

  4. Chris Says:

    Life is both…You need them both..the beauty is in the balance..

    • davidgoad Says:

      Chris, so you’re saying you should go back and forth between these 2 rides for balance, which is good advice. I do this too, though I sometimes get stuck on the bumper cars in between 🙂

  5. Chris Says:

    Life is both….you need them both…the beauty is in the balance.


  6. Life is not a ride. Life is a road! The deal is people think it’s about getting from Point A to Point B. But it is not that at all. It’s really Point A to Point Z. Points B-Y differ based on free will and life detours we do not expect.

    You’ve probably overheard the cliche’ – it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. This is the true part. The problem is most people examine the journey as a roller coaster or as a carousel, but it’s really neither. It’s about perspective.

    See, when people get a flat tire on “their road” – you can look at it the following ways:

    * As the victim with the flat tire where things always go wrong.

    * As the lucky one who realizes getting a flat tire could be a good
    thing – the delay was for ‘purpose’ to prevent entering other
    danger ahead. You always hear about how people miss getting
    on a plane that crashed or arriving somewhere before a fire
    broke out. Sometimes we get flat tires as a blessing.

    * As the person who thinks….oh, maybe I should slow down and
    pay more attention to car maintenance.

    * As the person who sees the opportunity to take a break and
    just accept the flat tire no differently than a paper cut or a hiccup.

    So the point is – you’ll eventually get to Point Z. Sometimes it’s nice to have a rest stop, a detour, check out a scenic point. It’s your road that matters, and what you do to enjoy the road. Rides will be fast, rides will be slow. But when you are on the open road, it belongs to you. How you accept what happens on you road, your journey is part of what we call accepting your life and living it.

    • davidgoad Says:

      I’ll give you the latitude to switch the metaphor Stacey because you are one of my favorite commenters 🙂 Just like Ray B. said above, I guess the Carousel and Roller Coaster are both finite loops, and do not represent growth the way a long road trip will. Thanks for adding your voice once again 🙂

    • Bill Colenso Says:

      I love this reply and couldn’t agree more…Stacey has got it going on!


  7. Roller coasters are a good metaphor, except that they are on tracks. (OK so I’m breaking your metaphor too.) I prefer the scary fun house that has multiple paths. Never knowing exactly which way is the right way out, and there are mirrors, and things that pop out. The scary clowns are pretty awesome too. I’m not sure which way is out, but I know I want to choose my own path!

    Thanks for the prompt David!

  8. MrWes Says:

    A few years ago, I was thrown onto the wild Roller-Coaster of life. Unpredictable doesn’t even come close to describing my life. I longed for that old merry-go-round. It was familiar, comfortable and safe. I didn’t think it was that bad.

    Now that the wild ride is over, I’m thinking what’s next?

    I’m thinking a ride that let’s me be in control. Go-carts with friends. A little healthy competition would be fun and productive.

  9. Russell Marsan Says:

    I love your metaphor Dave and think it’s spot on! If someone has the insight to contemplate their own journey through life, they often find their own favorite metaphor that most accurately paints the mental picture they envision as their personal quest through life. It’s obvious that your readers love to contemplate their own journeys and are sharing their vivid, valid, and beautiful metaphors. But, I really love your metaphor David, and would love to share my view of it.

    For the metaphor’s sake, our life is 1 ride from birth to death. So you have to think of the roller coaster and merry-go-round as 1 ride, not as if you are going on the same ride over and over again. If you are riding a roller coaster for the first time, it is exciting and unpredictable with highs and lows, unexpected twists and turns, and does not repeat. If you are riding the merry-go-round for 1 ride, it goes in a small circle over and over again.

    There is a reason why the lines for both rides are long; they are both very popular rides that fulfill the needs of the people wishing to ride them. There is no right or wrong; life can be enjoyed by riders on either ride or both rides. But as for me…in the immortal words of the Beatles, “shes got a ticket to ride”…and I’m punching my ticket for the roller coaster!!!

    • davidgoad Says:

      Thanks Russ. I like your persepctive too!
      My original story was really about fear and risk… more than joy and pain. The times in my life when I jumped off the safe carousel and took a shot at a new coaster always paid off for me. But the courage to take the risk was not easy at all. So for anyone “stuck” on a carousel right now… what are you really waiting for?

  10. Amanda Goad Says:

    Life in metaphors is a great way to help us try to understand it all by making the context more accessible and familiar in a smaller scope. In the end, though, life is life. Life is living, and then eventually death. And that’s exactly what makes it life. And living is taking risks, remembering our roots, redefining ourselves, listening to our hearts, consulting our minds, meeting new people, moving away from people, keeping in touch, constantly learning, opening our minds, drawing lines, and then willingly or unwillingly being faced with the unexpected, and starting all over again!
    Pain and joy come when we bring them about, when others bring them about, and sometimes they come with no reason at all. You mentioned the question, “is it OK to maximize your joy if it causes pain to others in the process?” and then you go on to say that pain is necessary. I’m guessing you didn’t mean to imply it’s okay to hurt people if it brings you joy, so what did you mean by posing that question within the context of this post? Maybe that could be used for a new blog post idea!

    • davidgoad Says:

      Amanda, that is a good catch and I’m glad you asked. I didn’t mean to imply that causing pain to others is necessary… more that going through personal pain is sometimes necessary to get to real joy and to fully appreciate it by contrast. And you’re right that this may merit another indepth story because it prompted so many good responses from smart people like you.
      Hmmm, so many rides to choose from for metaphors. Don’t even get me started on Bumper Cars… that’s my career 🙂

  11. Gus Says:

    I like both Dave, but I try to stay on the “It’s a small world” ride where there’s joy around each bend. Toti


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