Suffering and Sacrifice: Individual and Collective Benefits, and Implications for Leadership


In this chapter, we review the ways in which suffering and sacrifice are beneficial to human beings. In our review, we draw from both ancient and modern spiritual traditions and a large body of psychological research on the determinants of happiness and mental health. Our review is necessarily an abbreviated one; a thorough treatment of this topic would surely fill an entire volume. This chapter represents an initial attempt to illuminate basic insights, using broad brushstrokes, about the ways in which suffering and sacrifice contribute to people’s emotional, behavioral, and spiritual wellness. In addition to describing the psychological and spiritual benefits of suffering, we discuss the implications of these principles for leadership, heroism, and heroic leadership. Our central thesis is that suffering is inextricably tied to two important human drives: the drive for self-improvement, and the drive for improving one’s group, community, or nation. Suffering, we argue, is the soil from which good spiritual leadership germinates.

Document Type


Publication Date