If you’re like most graduate students, you have gotten caught up in a culture of suffering.

The culture of suffering says you need to delay all happiness, all joy, and all good things until you finish the dissertation.

It’s almost like you aren’t “worthy” of being happy and living a good life until you have the three letters after your name.

Now, as someone who has those letters after my name, I can tell you- they make you happy for a while, but this does wear off. That’s not said to discourage or dishearten you- merely to point out that to be sustainably happy, you need more in your life than just seeking the PhD.

For some of you, this isn’t a problem- in fact, you may go the other way- where you enjoy yourself too much, and never get moving on the dissertation. But even for those of you (and you know who you are), I bet that you still feel some tension or worry or stress about the dissertation- maybe even all the time- even though you’re out having fun.

So, in a way, you’re also adopting the culture of suffering.

You don’t have to suffer for your dissertation to be meaningful. You don’t.

You can turn out a worthwhile, meaningful, useful and effective project without suffering needlessly.

The biggest way to turn off the culture of suffering is to do the work you plan to do, stop obsessing about the dissertation when you’re not working on it, and reward yourself when you do a good job.

It sounds simple, right? But you might be surprised at how many people fail to do this.

The dissertation will not be better because you suffered through it. If you have been suffering, it’s time to explore some different ways of relating to the dissertation, because something is wrong when there is a whole lot of pain.