4 Sad Reasons Why Good People Suffer

Life can be unfair.

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Everyone suffers. You don't have to be religious to wonder why good people suffer, but bad people go through tough times, too.

Why do good people suffer?

The idea of a good person going through tough times as senseless is one of the hard life questions that millions of people put into Google hoping for an easy answer.

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Bad things happen to good people every day — given the senselessness of the COVID-19 pandemic, it may seem that life has no meaning.

Good people suffer because life is unfair; there really is no other way around this fact.

It hurts to see a good person suffer and not be able to do something about it. When you discover a loving mother is taken too soon from her child because of illness while a person who commits atrocious crimes go free, life's injustices make it plain to see.

Suffering is part of the human experience, and it doesn't always make sense. No one wants to think of an innocent child being born with no future or someone living in poverty after they are too old to work anymore.


We were taught at a young age if we were good people and treated others with respect, we would have a good life; suffering is not part of the plan.

However, as many of us quickly realized, the world was not that easy and suffering is part of it.

Good things: promotions, marriages, and successes can happen to people you deem as abjectly horrible. How many times have you seethed because you, a person who works so hard to be decent and kind, who works so hard to achieve what you have, never seem to catch a break?

Zoom out from you and you imagine a world of good being rewarded with good. You then also think that if good people shouldn’t suffer, what about the bigger problems in the world?


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If there was any morality in the world, why do horrible people get to live good lives, yet there are people dying every second of every day due to circumstances entirely out of their control? Part of the good people suffering involves seeing live work unfairly, and that's painful to accept.

The question of suffering leads people down a lot of philosophical, religious, and psychological mazes. Societies have tried to justify the existence of suffering since the beginning of time, with mixed results.

The problem most start to run into is that good and bad are very subjective categories. Different cultures and religions define good and bad in entirely different ways in an attempt to explain why good people suffer.


Also, you see this play in smaller, less existential scenarios, where others try to say bad things happen to good people because they will make use of the pain.

Good people suffering may be subjective and based on opinion. For example, that coworker you absolutely despise may think they are a good person too and are completely unaware of how you feel about them. What makes you’re suffering any less or more important than theirs?

These are all hard questions, but here are some viewpoints from venerated philosophers and psychologists as to why good people suffer.

Here are four sad reasons why good people suffer:

1. Good people suffer because of inequality.

Society is structured to serve the majority.


Psychologist Jay Watts writes that the great “why” of suffering is not so much due to who is good and bad, but what position in society people fall under.

Watts, in “Is mental illness is real?” explains that “Poverty, relative inequality, being subject to racism, sexism, displacement and a competitive culture all increase the likelihood of mental suffering,” she says.

So suffering is not really a question of morality but of privilege. Some people (not all) can escape harsher degrees suffering if they are protected in some way from sexism, racism, and classism.

This is not to invalidate the struggles of those who might belong to a more privileged position in these categories, but there is no denying that there are some aspects of society that aren’t specifically structured to ensure you suffer for the greater good of those deemed the “majority.”


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2. Good people suffer because life is hard.

We are traumatized the second we are born.

Parenting is hard and can be one of the most rewarding experiences a human being can have. But it will take a very perfect parent to not leave children with some kind of lifelong trauma.

Even if you love your parents, studies show a strong link between mental trauma and physical health effects. The Adverse Childhood Experiences studies show that childhood trauma and neglect actually show up through chronic inflammation and compromised immune responses in the body.

So what trauma we face can determine physically how our body fights against it. Not only that, but trauma manifests physically in our bodies; it is, as health experts say, not something we can just simply “overcome” with enough willpower.


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3. Good people suffer because pain is unbiased.

Why should only “bad” people suffer?

In fact, some people argue that all existence is suffering and that the world would be a much better place if no one was born at all.

Philosopher David Benatar describes this worldview as “anti-natalist.” In his book, “Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence” he states that reproducing is inherently cruel and irresponsible and that we should stop having children out of compassion to them.

In his book “The Human Predicament: A Candid Guide to Life’s Biggest Questions” he writes: “The quality of human life is, contrary to what many people think, actually quite appalling.”


He notes how existence is about constant and incessant discomforts and frustrations: of being too hot, too cold, too uncomfortable one minute, and then unbearably sleepy the next. “People want to be, look, and feel younger, and yet they age relentlessly.”

4. Good people suffer because everyone does.

Suffering is not healed by morality; it is healed by our own caring.

That is to say, not all of human existence is horrible. NBC sitcom The Good Place debates this question in a much more, uh, one might say, light-hearted tone in comparison to hardened and nihilistic philosophers and psychologists.


The core question of the show is: “What we owe to each other?” After the four characters struggle and debate academic philosophies proposed by Kant, Aristotle, Socrates, and Locke, the characters end at this very simple question.

“What We Owe to Each Other?” is a book written by Tim Scanlon. Scanlon posits the term contractualism: “to act morally is to abide by principles that no one can reasonably object.”

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This blunt, yet ultimately empathetic viewpoint may make human connection feel very transactional, but Scanlan argues that this very basic tenant should be the foundation of most societies.


Because instead of moralizing on what is fair, and what authority should rule over others, and who should take on the burden of suffering so others don’t have to, The Good Place and Scanlan argue that a just society born out of the natural sense of duty we feel towards each other.

We owe it to each other to treat each other with kindness, because this duty human beings have to each other, to take care of their friends, their children, their parents, might be all the good we have at the end of the day.

This sense of duty might be the only thing we can determine, so it might be our one act of agency against suffering.

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Jessica Xing is a writer who covers love, relationships, pop culture, and media.