Suffering Builds Character
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Suffering Builds Character is a cultural trope that implies that experiencing certain amounts of suffering can be beneficial to human nature. Originating from the Bible and perpetuated by various media, in 2021 the quote achieved popularity in endless cycle memes, used to convey that a person or a character is in a constant state of mental suffering.
The phrase "suffering builds character" originates from the Epistle to the Romans, the sixth book in the New Testament. The original verse reads: "Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope."
The phrase is a recognized cultural trope, with the concept appearing in multiple books, films and other media throughout human history (example from a January 2nd, 1989 Calvin and Hobbes comic strip shown below).
On October 2nd, 2021, Twitter user @aborteddreams posted an endless cycle meme based on the smoking heart image, with all four captions replaced with "suffering builds character." The tweet (shown below) gained 16 retweets and nearly 60 likes in two years.
On October 6th, 2021, iFunny user Monkfield reposted the image, with the post getting featured and garnering over 16,300 upvotes in two years.
Through October 2021, the earliest edited versions of the meme were shared. For example, on October 14th, iFunny user Aegidivs posted a Trollge version that received over 540 smiles in two years (shown below, left). On October 17th, Tumblr user glistringlord posted a version referencing Calvin and Hobbes that accumulated over 9,000 reblogs and 13,800 likes in that period (shown below, center). Prior to October 28th, an unknown user posted a Psycho Wojak version of the meme that gained particular popularity.
In 2022 and 2023, users created versions of the meme featuring various characters, often referencing their character development arcs. For example, on April 26th, Reddit user /u/SwornThane posted a version about The Elder Scrolls orcs that received over 1,200 upvotes in /r/TrueSTL in one year (shown below, left). On October 7th of that year, Redditor /u/Sealking13 posted a version featuring character Finn from Fire Emblem (shown below, right). The post garnered over 2,300 upvotes in /r/shitpostemblem on Reddit in eight months.
 Biblegateway – Romans 5:3-5
 TV Tropes – Misery Builds Character
 GoComics – Calvin and Hobbes
 Twitter – @aborteddreams
 Tumblr – glisteringlord
 Reddit – Suffering only builds suicidal ideation, not character
 Reddit – Cycle of Orcs
 Reddit – Finn Character Arc
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