"Misery Builds Character" is a Stock Aesop and Stock Phrase implying that unpleasant, distasteful activities and events are supposedly good. The suffering that the subject goes through is believed to help their personal and spiritual development, though often in a vague, unspecified manner (not always clear what "character" is supposed to be or represent). Synonymous with "A little suffering is good for the soul," or as Kelly Clarkson puts it, "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" — which in turn was based on a tenet of Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophy. When done right, this trope proves that someone can grow and mature once they've had their share of humble pie or have suffered enough to move themselves in a more positive direction. If done wrong, the trope can imply that one can only become a better person through suffering, rather than building character on good deeds.
This message is often delivered by a parent (or Parental Substitute) to a Bratty Half-Pint as part of some instructions or admonitions. If the addressee is a Mouthy Kid or Little Miss Snarker, a sarcastic response is all but inevitable, especially if the parent is only doing it to be patronizing. The parent may claim that they used to face the same or worse kinds of tribulations and came out of it "developed", as well as deny that it affected them negatively.
Of course, this trope is not limited to children, and the phrase can be used between adults as well.
When this trope is applied to creativity, compare True Art Is Angsty: the idea that art based on misery — that causes the artist suffering, is inspired by someone else's ordeal, or induces pain in the audience — is automatically better than happier art. When applied to a religion or ideology, compare Martyrdom Culture: the idea that suffering is the most righteous thing of all.
Often a case of Truth in Television, in part because having the willpower to push through something hellish and come out on the other side makes you a stronger person. A form of Necessary Fail. Related to A Lesson in Defeat, Training from Hell, The Spartan Way, Because You Can Cope, and Had to Be Sharp. Can also be invoked by the Drill Sergeant Nasty, If It Tastes Bad, It Must Be Good for You, Teach Him Anger, Mistakes Are Not the End of the World, and When I Was Your Age....
Before we go into the examples, please understand that, much like the biblical passage abovenote this trope is very divisive. While some people may subscribe to this idea, it generally holds that no one should have to go through any unpleasant, distasteful activities in the first place, especially since misery just builds even more misery for some people. Furthermore, trying to invoke this trope on another person, or group of people, can (and sometimes does) backfire horribly, in both directions.
- 7 Seeds brutally deconstructs this concept with the Hails of Corn arc, focusing on the candidates that would eventually become Team Summer A. They were raised in ways to ensure they would survive in the post-apocalyptic future, given various survival training and keeping a keen eye on things, which includes the sadistic teachers beginning to plant more and more 'problems' that have horrible, if not fatal, results for any candidate that didn't pay enough attention. Then came the Final Test, a massive Deadly Game scenario where the only rule was 'To Survive', and the last seven remaining would become the team. The whole idea stemmed from Kaname, whose own background involved seeing his parents murdered in front of his eyes and then kidnapped and abandoned in the wilderness, believing that those horrible events made him stronger. He realizes how wrong this stance was when he sees the Team Summer A members, who have all become broken from the horrors they witnessed during the Final Test.
- Though it isn't explicitly stated, a large portion of the backstory goes into showing why Guts is such a hardened (and therefore exceptional) warrior. Most of his life has been misery heaped on tragedy, forging him into an inhumanly durable person.
- On the other hand Casca most definitely did NOT become stronger from her misery. After all, this trope only works when applied moderately, not in excessive doses. It says a lot about the series and the setting that Guts' misery can be considered 'moderate'. Of course, Guts' "advantage" was that his suffering didn't all happen at once, it came in successively worse turns, so when the Eclipse happened, he was already tough enough that it didn't completely break him. Casca, on the other hand, while she didn't have a super fun life, had it relatively easier than Guts. So, then the Eclipse happens, and...
- Zig-Zagged and/or deconstructed in Birdy the Mighty: Decode. Birdy was raised and trained by people who seemed to have this mindset, having undergone Training from Hell since she was no older than ten in order to become a Federation officer. In the first season, the villain, Shyamalan, attempts to cause a version of this on a global scale, by unleashing a superweapon that will kill all but those he considers most worthy. The second season, in the aftermath of the ensuing disaster, shows that the survivors were able to bond over having lived through something so terrible. However, by the same token, Birdy did not have as tough a life as the second season's villain, Nataru, who is now a mentally-unstable murderer after having lived through the aforementioned disaster, and Shyamalan himself is implied to be wracked with Survivor Guilt as the result of being a victim of a terrorist attack years ago, which serves as the basis for his worldview today. The overarching implication seems to be that misery is just as likely to make you worse off as better off, if not more likely. Given that the director of Decode also directed the below-mentioned Heat Guy J, it's no surprise that its views on the subject are similar.
- In the Universe Survival Saga of Dragon Ball Super, this happens to Frost. After being on the run for a very long time, Frost Took a Level in Badass to the point that Hit actually had to get serious for a moment to dodge Frost's poisoned tail.
- Fruits Basket: Tohru's late mother Kyoko was a firm believer in this, telling Uotani that often people can't mature and become emotionally strong until they have expressed lots of pain and hardships. Kyoko herself went through a lot, mainly being disowned by her parents and losing her husband, and it nearly broke her, but because she still had a daughter to take care of, she knew how to turn her bad experiences into wisdom. As a result, Kyoko became the most emotionally intelligent and strong-willed character in the series.
- Fullmetal Alchemist: Edward Elric subscribes to this viewpoint, sometimes to Anvilicious levels:
There's no such thing as a painless lesson. They just don't exist. Sacrifices are necessary; you can't gain anything without losing something first. Although, if you can endure that pain, and walk away from it, you'll find that you now have a heart strong enough to overcome any obstacle. Yeah... a heart made Fullmetal.
- The Genius Prince's Guide to Raising a Nation Out of Debt (Hey, How About Treason?): Nynym and the king's current aide, Levan Ralei, discuss how kingdoms can start out promising before the later generations of rulers become corrupt. The first few generations of rulers remember how hard it was to establish the country and are disciplined as a result, but later generations don't have that harsh experience and end up complacent and hedonistic.
- The world of Good Luck Girl! runs on this logic. Misfortune Gods are necessary for the world to function not because the gods like seeing people suffer or be inconvenienced—they cause bad events because they're meant to serve as a check for humans who would otherwise grow complacent and spoiled if good luck was all they knew. Protagoinst Ichiko was once such person; while she has a lot of problems on her own (such as her growing up with her parents always working and being betrayed by people she thought were friends), she starts off the story as a Spoiled Brat who coasts off of her good luck. She only starts developing as a person when hardship pops up and she's forced to spread her good luck around to people who need it. Her love interest Tsuwabuki was hit hard with negligent parents and poverty but became one of the most disciplined characters in the series for it. The overall villain of the manga, Ikari, begs to differ—he was born with immesurable bad luck, and only started to open up to others after Kanna blesses him with her good luck just by being near her. Kanna's death by her fortune energy draining her life, combined with his terrible life beforehand, makes Ikari go ballistic and declare war on humanity (for needing fortune/misfontune) and the current gods that enable their neediness.
- Subverted in Heat Guy J, where on the one hand, Clair does become a better person after going through a Trauma Conga Line, but on the other Daisuke is a good person in part because he, unlike Clair, has had people he can connect to and rely on throughout the hard times; most of the characters who have suffered worse than Daisuke are portrayed as having something wrong with them, and the reason why Clair is a bad person in the first place is because he grew up as a Lonely Rich Kid whose father abused him for years.
- Dark Magical Girl Fate Testarossa became the kindest and easily the most heroic character of Lyrical Nanoha series because she was abused and abandoned as a child, resolving to let no more children share her fate on her watch. On the other hand, in Battle of Aces, Arf suggests that Fate could have gone down a darker path like her Evil Counterpart Material L did if not for meeting Nanoha and the others.
- Kujira Kurokami from Medaka Box based her life on the saying, "Something amazing can only be made after seeing hell," believing that any happiness would keep her from creating her best work. Thus, she forced this trope on herself, even going so far as to run away from her well-off family, change her name, hide her face, and erase her memory.
- Played straight and subverted in Naruto. Several people, the main character included, are better people specifically because they can empathize with the pain others are feeling. However, the main character makes it very clear that endless suffering is like drowning, and you can only last so long without someone pulling you up for air. The jinchuuriki who have someone supporting them turn out well, like Bee and Naruto, but the ones like Gaara who have nobody....don't turn out well. And there are cases like Haku and several members of the Sound, who suffered so much that a single act of kindness or even neutrality made them devote themselves to people just to feel needed, even when they knew they were just being used as tools. The overall result seems to be 'misery can make you strong, but you'll likely go crazy and probably be overall weaker than if you had a positive upbringing'. Gaara and Lee were about on even terms without a demon transformation and Lee gained strength from support with his teacher. Killer Bee is also exceptionally strong and respected and he was raised from childhood as a recognized member of his village.
- One Piece has Monkey D. Garp follow this as he subjected his grandsons, the protagonist Monkey D. Luffy and Portgas D. Ace to extensive tough training, all in the hopes of forging them into strong Marines. He succeeded in the strong part, but not quite the Marines part. If anything, it just made them want to become pirates. However, the familial love is still there and Garp is proud of his grandsons.
- In the second Sailor Moon movie (at least in the dubbed version), Sailor Moon uses a variation during her Patrick Stewart Speech to the movie's villain.
Without the bad times, we wouldn't appreciate the good times.
- A Silent Voice: Brutaly deconstructed. Shouko's mother believed this, and tried to encourage Shouko to stand up for herself and fight her own battles. It didn't work; Shouko prefers to Turn the Other Cheek and internalize the hatred directed towards her. Yuzuru as a result judges her mother for being strict and unsympathetic, even when Ms. Nishimiya does better. Meanwhile, after being used as The Scapegoat, while Shouya has become a better person since his elementary school days, he's also battling suicidal thoughts and doesn't believe in trying to live.
- Yu-Gi-Oh!: Gozaburo Kaiba, the adoptive parent to Seto and Mokuba, was abusive to Seto on a daily basis since he made him his heir and thus had to be ruthless to survive the world of business. he succeeded... so much so that Seto overtook the company in adolescence. Gozaburo's fate differs per adaptation (he commits suicide in the manga to further cement to Seto what happens to losers after Seto takes the company. The anime instead has him survive and upload his mind into a computer to retake his company.)
- Invoked by the often Wrong Genre Savvy Cockroach in Cerebus the Aardvark:
Roach: And we ALL know the only way to create character... don't we?
Roach: Bingo. (punches him)
- Daredevil: In a crossover with The Punisher, Matt ends up on a team with Frank's new sidekick, Rachel, who comes from a similar history of loss. Bonding over how they've lost loved ones, Rachel says that no one else knows such drive without tragedy. Daredevil... let's just say he roundly rejects that line of thinking.
- The Flash: This was the rationale of the villain Zoom (Hunter Zolomon), who attempted to murder Wally West's wife, believing that West needed to suffer personal tragedy in order to become a better hero. He does not realize how fundamentally screwed up this logic truly is, making him also an example of The Mentally Disturbed by virtue of invoking this trope. Wally himself rejects this line of thinking and stated that what Hunter never understood was that being the Flash was never about tragedy, but about always moving forward.
- Cited by Star-Lord of Guardians of the Galaxy.
"You live a life like mine, you end up with a pocketful of regrets. A good regret gives a man character, if you ask me. I didn't get to be this handsome and laconic through clean living."
- The Intimates:
- Punchy stops Dead Kid Fred from committing suicide. Later, it's revealed that he wished he hadn't gotten to him in time, because having a death on his conscience like that would've made people take him more seriously as a hero — would have made him a better hero. This may have something to do with the fact that the murder of his sister sparked his career as a superhero to begin with.
- Duke more or less exhibits the trend, as well, being probably the nicest of the main characters while having probably the worst home life.
- Zigzagged by Scrooge McDuck in Don Rosa's The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck. While the suffering and hard work that he went through to create his fortune gave him the drive, strength, and guts to become the richest duck in the world, it also turned him into a crabby, greedy, miserable old miser who eventually drove his last remaining family away. While he does eventually reconcile with his nephew and grandnephews more than a decade later (after spending quite a bit of time waiting to die in a crumbling mansion), he never fully loses his greed, and other works from Rosa show him as being secretly deeply envious of Donald's family.
- Over the course of Art Spiegelman's Maus, Spiegelman's father Vladek states several times that, although his time in the concentration camps was horrific beyond measure, he learned several skills that would serve him well later in his life. The book subjects this trope to severe Deconstruction in that surviving severe oppression does not necessarily make a person better or worse. Vladek after the war becomes a thrifty, miserly parent to his young son who he can't relate to in the end. He's also unable to shake the prejudices, even being something of a racist himself to African-Americans, and overall his experience has made him a super-paranoid hypochondriac miser who's very needy and passive-aggressive. Likewise, his wife couldn't get over it herself and several years after the war, she committed suicide.
- At the end of Tom King's Mister Miracle (2017) run, Mister Miracle chooses to stay inside the Lotus-Eater Machine he's trapped in to defy a Dream Apocalypse and be happy. Orion is understanding of his decision but also says that it's a mistake because mortal life is meaningless and unfulfilling without struggle, challenge, and the possibility of failure, the things that make it all worth it in the end. He essentially argues that any happiness Scott may find in a "perfect world" handed to him on a platter is hollow and false.
- Used very darkly in V for Vendetta, in which one of V's biggest What the Hell, Hero? moments comes from his Cold-Blooded Torture of his protege Evey so that she can undergo the same spiritual transformation he did. It works, but not before she nearly loses her mind.
- As the trope image shows, in Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin's dad would often invoke this phrase whenever Calvin (or his mom) complained about their current activity. Bill Watterson stated in the tenth-anniversary book that he took this trait directly from his own father.
- In an arc where Moe successfully pressures Calvin to play baseball at recess, Calvin's dad has the idea to help him practice, because "it builds character." He hits a grounder to Calvin, and it bounces up into his face, leaving him with a nosebleed and a desire to never play baseball again.
Calvin: All by charagder id drippig out by node!
- The actual Trope Namer phrase came from somewhat of a parody of this — Calvin finds his father's glasses and uses the phrase in an impression of his father funny enough that his mom was falling out of her chair with laughter.
Calvin's Dad: OK, the voice was a little funny, but that's still one darn sarcastic kid we're raising.
- One strip points out that the concept of building character itself is a turnoff for Calvin. After being forced outside by his father, he and Hobbes wind up busy catching fireflies by the time he calls him back inside. After being lectured about how this experience has benefited him (despite not being a miserable one), he later grumbles that nothing ruins the fun in something like being told that it builds character.
- Humorously subverted in this strip. The man who firmly believes that Misery Builds Character can only be pushed so far.
- Another strip subverts it when Calvin asks why they can't turn up the thermostat.
Calvin's Dad: Consuming less fuel is better for the environment and it saves money.
Calvin's Dad: ...and being cold builds character.
Calvin: I knew it!
- In a Sunday strip, Calvin is being dragged along by his parents for a walk in the snow-covered outdoors for what feels like hours to him. When Calvin complains about the frigid weather making his toes numb, his dad tells him, "Numb toes build character." Calvin isn't reassured:
Calvin: Yeah? Well, what about frostbite?! What about hypothermia?! What about death?! I suppose those build character too! I can't believe I'm out here!
- One one-shot strip has Calvin concluding in a talk with his dad that anything and everything bad he does is everyone else's fault and seeing himself to be nothing more than an innocent pawn living in a toxic society. His father's response is that clearly he needs to build more character and to go shovel the walk to start that.
- In the strip that currently provides the page image, Calvin begins to suspect an ulterior motive in the fact that his father forces him to shovel snow and "build character" instead of buying a snowblower.
Calvin: Funny how every time I build character, he saves a couple hundred dollars.
- In an arc where Moe successfully pressures Calvin to play baseball at recess, Calvin's dad has the idea to help him practice, because "it builds character." He hits a grounder to Calvin, and it bounces up into his face, leaving him with a nosebleed and a desire to never play baseball again.
- In Peanuts:
- Charlie Brown declares that he already has enough character, thank you very much.
- In another Lucy assures him, "We learn from our mistakes," and he bellows plaintively, "THAT MAKES ME THE SMARTEST PERSON IN THE WORLD!"
- At one point, after Snoopy's doghouse burned down rather tragically, Charlie Brown went to Lucy's booth for some counseling on why these tragedies occurred, to which she gave the rather philosophically pat answer that adversity helps prepare us for what lies ahead in life. For what are we being prepared, then? "More adversity. Five cents, please."
- Calvin & Hobbes: The Series: Calvin's father gets exaggerated in this work: in one scene, he thinks that hanging on a cliff on the edge of the Grand Canyon builds character.
- Child of the Storm makes it appear as if master manipulator Doctor Strange believes this, but the truth is a bit closer to 'adversity builds character, not misery, and so do positive experiences and social bonds'. In other words, he's more than willing to only given the heroes minimal advice to guide them through what's coming, and to let them endure some pretty serious things, but he also makes sure to balance it out with arranging close-knit groups of family and friends, therapy for those who need it, and plenty of positive experiences, too.
- In the Girls und Panzer fanfic Off The Path, Shiho discusses this trope in her POV chapter, titled "Sacrifice", defending her approach to teaching tankery and raising Miho.
It may be overly simplistic to say something like "misery builds character," but the decisions most necessary for success — in goals you choose yourself, as well as those chosen for you — are seldom the easiest or the most pleasant. It often takes an adult to realize this, and the related idea that there are things greater than your own desires and feelings when a child cannot.
- Played with in The Boy Who Died A Lot, Snape's constant misery in having to prevent Harry's death and later heartbreak slowly has him develop a sense of empathy and sympathy for others. Subverted with Harry, as the Trauma Conga Line in Cedric's death, his alienation and Umbridge's torture drive him to successfully commit suicide.
- Enforced by Sabrina in her side-story of Pokémon Reset Bloodlines. Disgusted by her hometown's lazy attitude, she decides that if the promise of achieving something great won't spur them to work harder, she will make them act on fear of losing what they have, and thus she begins to use her powers to terrorize them until someone stands up to her.
- Discussed in The Power of Seven as Voldemort muses that the pampered nature of most pure-bloods means that they don't actually have the same raw potential he feels true wizards should possess, with only Snape, Bellatrix and Harry (from Voldemort's perspective) having mastered the power that comes from pain.
- In the Kirby fanfiction Avalanche Stories: Bronto Burt's Story, Bronto Burt moved on and wins the Avalanche competition pretty much to Kirby despite Burt losing to the pink puffball and "came back strong".
- Izuku discusses this with Blake in My Huntsman Academia. He knows that his childhood was absolutely miserable for being Broken and his dream of becoming a Huntsman who saves others would have been an impossibility if he had never met Toshinori. At the same time, he knows that his experiences, for better or worse, have shaped him and wonders if he would be as driven, empathetic, or understanding as he would have been without them.
Izuku: It was... hard. A normal person's perception on having Aura is that it is a part of them like, for example, an organ. You may not ever use that organ, just like how most normal people never use Aura, but it is a part of your being. So to not have that means that you're not like other people, that you're not normal. [lowers his head slightly] Growing up knowing that was tough, but the tougher part of it was that everyone else also knew it too. There was no hiding it; even if I wasn't actually Broken... well, I still looked it. Even now I'm pretty short for someone my age who should've had Aura, and I've always been a little on the weaker side. My teachers would always pity me, seeing me try so hard to keep up with my peers when it must've looked so pointless. My peers would ridicule me for being born "wrong" and "Broken". Lastly, there was... Kacchan, who bullied me throughout the years as he hated to be near such a "weakling".
Izuku: But... all of that made me the person I am today. If I didn't go through these hardships who knows how I would turn out. Sure, I loved Toshinori Yagi before and after finding out my "Brokenness", but would I have really cared for the hardships of other people? Or perhaps I would have just wanted to be cool like him, who knows? [clenches his fist] It's strange how people can perceive others differently over slight differences, maybe even not so noticeable ones, and then go on to lord it over them. Like they're above such "weird" people. While my dream is to protect people, it's also my dream to change and inspire people to new paths of thinking about their surroundings. Sort of similar to your dream of changing people's minds for the better, isn't it?
Blake: ... I think so Izuku. I think so.
- A Knight's Tale as Inquisitor takes place after Fate/Zero for Arturia, where she experienced a series of horrendous events on all fronts. Now, Arturia has become a more openly friendly person to the people around her, making a conscious effort to avoid her previous behavior towards those on her side.
- In The Desert Storm, Mandalore has a philosophy which can be summed up as this trope. During the Clone Wars, Ben eventually came to understand this:
As flowers are grown by rain, so is the soul grown by war. From suffering comes compassion; from cruelty, mercy; from violence, peace. We are not born when we come into this world. We are born when we learn who we are, and we can only learn by being tested. Adversity is the crucible, honor is the way, and enlightenment the reward.
- The Untold Tale has Shen Yuan explaining some misery is needed in order to create a protagonist able to question society's unfairness and bring justice instead of growing complacent. Deconstructed since Luo Binghe — said protagonist — is rightfully furious about being made to suffer merely because someone wanted to mold him into a great ruler.
- Discussed and deconstruced in Naruto: Rend. Kakashi and Minato are having a quiet conversation about Naruto, 7 years after his death, with Minato saying that he can't help but feel he kept making the wrong decisions when it came to Naruto and wonders if burdening him with so much responsibility resulted in his death. Kakashi somberly replies that their attempts to spin Naruto's childhood and subsequent struggles, as this trope are just them trying to ease their own guilt.
Kakashi: "...saying that being alone to struggle made him the exceptional ninja, the exceptional man, he became would only be a way to ease our own conscience. The only thing we know is that he became the best despite us..."
- When comparing themselves to run-of-the-mill Alfea students, the protagonist trio reaches this conclusion. On the one hand, the three are mourning their mothers, soldiering grueling training in Azeroth, and engaging in their first battles as teenagers. On the other hand, the students of Alfea, Red Fountain, and Cloud Tower get it easy with lackluster magical instruction and only worrying about their grades and the Miss Magix beauty contest. Wanna guess who are elite soldiers and who were slaughtered by the Burning Legion?
- This trope is also the reason why the Winx women, Daphne, and Marion are the most powerful fairies in the present time.
- A couple of deleted scenes in Bruce Almighty ended up expanding on the consequences of Bruce granting the wishes of every person who prays to him, with God showing Bruce a couple of the people whose prayers he answered and how, though he's made them happy now, they'll actually be worse off in the long run.
God: Triumph is born out of struggle, faith is the alchemist. If you want pictures like these, you'll need to use some dark colors.
- A recurring theme in Conan the Barbarian (1982); the years of physical and emotional hardship shape Conan into the powerhouse he becomes as an adult.
- A central theme throughout The Dark Knight Trilogynote is Bruce overcoming increasing adversity and hardship to become stronger. Interestingly it also shows a darker side to this trope in that many of the villains he faces have also been forged by past tragedy and suffering.
- Batman Begins has Bruce endure the Training from Hell in order to become Batman. All fueled by the death of his parents and personal vengeance denied to him. His mentor Ducard was similarly motivated by the loss of the woman he loved though he chose a more extreme path.
- In The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce becomes stronger from being forced to watch Gotham as it descends into anarchy, while he's trapped in a Moroccan prison half a world away, unable to do anything about it. Lampshaded when Miranda Tate says this, nearly verbatim, to Bruce Wayne. Despite the baddies' familiarity with this trope, Bane in particular is utterly shocked when Wayne crawls out of the hole and manages to destroy them both. It's also — possibly — why Wayne has recovered enough from his childhood trauma to finally quit angsting and enjoy life in the end.
- A Gentle Art:
Lance: Pain, they say, builds character... and you, my dear, are about to have more character than you know what to do with.
- Invoked by Penny's mom in Hairspray:
Penny: Without that show, I have nothing!
Prudy: Having nothing builds character!
- In the movie version of Holes, the staff at Camp Green Lake claim the juvenile delinquents are forced to dig holes because it builds character. The real reason is there's a fortune buried somewhere in the dried-up lake bed and camp was created to try to find it.
Mr. Sir: (In response to Stanleys question) Youre not lookin fer anythin; youre buildin character. Ya take a bad boy, make him dig holes all day in the hot sun, it turns him into a good boy. Thats our philosophy here at Camp Green Lake — start diggin.
- Frank in Little Miss Sunshine tries to teach this to Dwayne, relating the story of Marcel Proust's coming of age and realizing that his difficult and painful teenage years "were the best years of his life because they made him who he was."
- Major Payne did this deliberately to mold his students into a cohesive unit. The Guidance Councilor thinks this was an incredibly cynical plan. But by God, it worked! This became less "making them suffer to be better," which he himself went through, but "making them suffer together equally, and have a shared target of ire," a very common tactic among Drill Instructors, Sports coaches, etc. And yes, it is damned effective if done right.
- The Matrix: Agent Smith believes this to be humanity's hat, citing humanity's refusal to accept the first utopic Matrix as real. Something of an inversion; he uses this, not as evidence that suffering is good and necessary, but that Humans Are Flawed for needing it.
"Some believed that we lacked the programming language to design your 'perfect world,' but I believe that human beings as a species define their existence through misery and suffering."
- Mythica: Szorlok says Marek should be grateful for her hard life as an orphaned slave girl because hardship makes you strong.
- A deleted scene in Rocky Balboa has Rocky talking about how as a kid he would stare into streetlights without blinking and squeeze a ball in his hand until it was unbearably painful. He did this to make himself used to being uncomfortable and tolerate pain better. It paid off big time.
- The Horde believes that the broken are the more evolved and those who haven't suffered are impure. The Beast is this idea made manifest (plus a bunch of animal traits from the zoo they work at) which proves to be the key reason why he lets Casey go free once he sees her numerous scars.
- Also played literally for Casey herself, since being a sexual assault survivor is what prepared her to survive as Kevin's captive, both in terms of taking the time to study his behavior as a predator in order to make sound decisions when she has to respond to him, and in terms of having the guts to pull the trigger on him. The sequel Glass (2019) reveals that Casey also gained the strength to report her abusive uncle.
- Star Wars: The Last Jedi has Yoda say as much to the dispirited Luke: "Failure, the best teacher, is.''
- Sunrise at Campobello: Franklin D. Roosevelt begins to feel that his bout with polio and the permanent paralysis that he suffered, as a result, is a part of what he must go through to lead. "I feel I must go through this fire for some reason."
- Sylvia: Parodied.
Professor Thomas: The government cut the electricity.
Professor Thomas: To build national character!
- Part of V's reasoning in V for Vendetta behind kidnapping Evie, locking her in a fake government prison, and torturing her in the ways he was subjected to — he was grooming her to take over for him after he was gone.
- Whiplash: Fletcher's "Good Job" speech can be summed up as 'humiliation and self-loathing drive self-improvement, while undeserved praise breeds complacency and mediocrity'. This becomes deconstructed as Fletcher's regimen does improve his students' proficiency as musicians but turns them into cutthroat jerks at best and renders them psychologically broken at worst.
- Invoked in-universe by Evilene in The Wiz. This is actually a subversion since Evilene, being The Wicked Witch of the West she is, is actually an evil slave master:
Evilene: Suffering is food for the soul. NOW SUFFER!
- X-Men Film Series:
- This is Charles' journey throughout the First Class trilogy; he must suffer a great deal in order to gain the necessary experience and wisdom to become an effective leader of mutants. When his life runs smoothly for too long, he can get complacent and fail to recognize that he's being harmfully paternalistic (such as his overprotectiveness towards Raven), or he doesn't anticipate a looming threat before it's too late (despite Hank's insistence, Xavier doesn't believe that the X-Men are required after the events of 1973). Because the hardships he had to endure in the Alternate Timeline are different than in the original timeline, his Icy Blue Eyes at the end of X-Men: Apocalypse indicate that James McAvoy's Professor X will be more resilient and proactive.
- Deadpool: Negasonic Teenage Warhead asks her mentor Colossus what the perks of being with the X-Men are, considering the mansion gets completely destroyed every couple of years. Colossus then cheerfully responds that "House blowing up builds character."
- Atlas Shrugged: Various Strawman Political characters say that suffering is necessary for building character. The Writer on Board doesn't think kindly of this notion.
- Brian's Saga: In one of the sequels, Brian clarifies that he did not beat Nature — Nature beat and kicked the stupid out of him until he learned his place in the forest.
- Dragon Blood: Fenwick hates the fact that his son Ward has a soft heart. His attempts to change that through violence do not succeed. (He managed to drive his even more sensitive son Tosten to suicide ...) On the other hand, Ward's misery did build his character, in that he is always very compassionate with and protective of the smaller, weaker, and more helpless. He repeatedly refers to the fact that he knows what it's like to be bullied by someone bigger and stronger. On the other hand, a different man might have just decided to join the bullies. Likely, Ward's gentle personality could have been sensitized to the suffering of others by just being told what it's like to be bullied.
- The Empirium Trilogy: One of the reasons the Prophet gives Eliana as to why they let Corien mentally torture her for months on end was so Eliana could be "reborn" into a being capable of taking down her mother.
The Prophet: I needed you to break, and then I needed you to rebuild yourself into something stronger than you were before. Into a version of yourself capable of facing your mother at the height of her power. What you were before was not enough. [...] If I had come to you, none of this would have happened. You would still be small and human, frightened of the power in your blood.
- Harry Potter:
- Most notably implied with Harry himself: Growing up with his abusive Aunt, Uncle and Cousin gave Harry a lot more humility and compassion than his father had at the same age (although his father grew out his Jerk Jock phase eventually). However, the real reason Harry is a Humble Hero is that the love and sacrifice of his Good Parents never left him. As Dumbledore repeatedly clarifies, Harry is exceptional for being so kind and caring despite growing up the way he did, and calls out the Dursleys for the poor treatment they gave him.
- Apparently a philosophy of Smeltings, Dudley Dursleys elite private boarding school: Among the specified accoutrements is a knobbly walking stick, used by students "...for hitting each other when the teacher wasnt looking. This was supposed to be good training for later life."
- Hinted at with Ginny Weasley: Although it would be a sacrilege to call the Weasley household unloving or miserable, growing up as the youngest of seven siblings — and the only girl, to boot — seems to have left an impact on Ginnys personality. As Harry muses, That was one of the many wonderful things about Ginny, she was rarely weepy. He had sometimes thought that having six brothers must have toughened her up.
- There are several instances where misery does not build character. The young Tom Riddle had a bad childhood, growing up without parents, but he didn't become a Heartwarming Orphan, he became The Sociopath. Severus Snape barely managed to escape this, but even then he became a Dark wizard who struck out at the one person who was very nice to him and even after his HeelFace Turn, remains a difficult, unpleasant person haunted by his past. The theme of the books is choice, and even in exceptionally difficult situations, people have to make a choice to determine their character.
- Holes: The entire guiding philosophy of Camp Green Lake, literally:
Narrator: If you take a bad boy and make him dig a hole every day in the hot sun, it will turn him into a good boy.
- The Journey to Atlantis: All of the main characters jointly survive a shipwreck only to be stranded on a deserted island, and have to survive through various other hardships while on said island, forcing them to adapt and grow.
- Master of Formalities: The people of planet Cappozzi have this as the central tent of their culture. They deliberately put themselves in situations that, in their belief, will better them through suffering. One way is a Blazing Inferno Hellfire Sauce called "chowklud", which is a staple of their cuisine. Food is normally prepared in such a way as to keep it bland and textureless, so that the chowklud, which they liberally pour all over the meal, is even more distinctive. When visiting planet Apios, the Cappozzian ruler Lord Kank requests that Lady Jakabitus invite the young Henneck Hahn to the reception, so that he can better himself by enduring Henneck's insults. Although Henneck proves to be too much even for Kank, who expresses regret that Henneck is too young to be formally challenged to a Duel to the Death.
- New Jedi Order: Vergere does this to Jacen BIG time in Traitor. This is a fundamental part of Yuuzhan Vong philosophy — the Vong believe that anything worth having or any lesson worth learning can only be purchased through pain (stemming from their belief that the Creator made the universe by ritually sacrificing his own body). Vergere picked this up from the Vong, though her definition of "character" turns out to differ rather substantially from theirs.
- Pact: Blake Thorburn plays with this trope. While he occasionally cites his Dark and Troubled Past of time spent on the streets, which he claims have given him keen instincts, he also mentions that he loathes the saying "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger." While his instincts may be keener, they're counterbalanced by his severe PTSD, and he himself feels that he's been made weaker, often referring to himself as "not much of a man."
- A Princess of Landover: Crabbit appears to espouse this view. And judging by Mistaya's Character Development while at Libiris, he may be right.
- Quantum Gravity: Devils plant themselves on a victim and whisper these kind of thoughts, keeping the victim in Hellnote . Demons get...touchy if you confuse demons and devils, as demons believe the exact opposite. Have fun at everything you do, be it painting, singing, fighting, killing, decorating, what have you. A demon with a devil on it isn't even considered a demon anymore, it's an imp.
- Schooled in Magic: Aurelius justifies the poor treatment many students receive on the basis that they must be strong for surviving as adult mages. If they can't handle bullying and pranks, they'll have no chance.
- Discussed in The Screwtape Letters (set during WWII), where Screwtape warns Wormwood not to revel in human misery because hard times are the soil in which courage and other virtues grow. He even suspects it's part of a long game by The Enemy, since devils don't want earthly virtue to flourish, but they can't not make humanity miserable...
- The Sister Verse and the Talons of Ruin: Interprets this literally. Flesh influenced by the Lord in White is tempered like steel when exposed to trauma, which is what gives the higher echelons of darklings their extreme physical resistance, while mentally, driving them completely insane.
- The Star Child: Deconstructed. The eponymous star child is a beautiful yet vain boy who is Punished with Ugly for his cruelty, and starts learning humility and kindness after being Made a Slave to a cruel wizard. He is eventually rewarded for his Character Development by being given back his beauty and reuniting with his royal birth parents... however, the sufferings he endured as took a toll on his health and he would die young, resulting in a Sudden Downer Ending.
Yet ruled he not long, so great had been his suffering, and so bitter the fire of his testing, for after the space of three years he died.
- The Stormlight Archive: Misery is the most important key to becoming a Surgebinder. The soul needs to crack so that power can flow in and shore up the fissures. While it is possible to be born with a cracked soul (mental illness), it is more common for the proto-Surgebinder to go through hell and gain their powers that way.
- Tall Tale America: A recurring theme is that people can only get to be heroes if they've got plenty of "rock-ribbed hardships" to overcome. Heck, Pecos Bill intentionally makes the cowboy business extraordinarily difficult, just so the cowboys who manage to survive it will be the best there ever was.
- Appears frequently in stories about British childhoods (especially holidays before mass air travel), such as Emma Kennedy's The Tent, the Bucket and Me about her family's disastrous camping holidays in the '70s.
- The Traveler's Gate: You have to earn everything in Valinhall, from food to shelter to even the right to a good night's sleep. On the other hand, Elysia should operate this way, but they keep skipping steps because Alin is The Chosen One, and just give him power that they know he hasn't earned. Alin quickly gets a swelled head, while Simon knows the value of everything he has.
Kai: Otoku says that there is one rule in this house, above all others: what you want, you must earn.
- Timewyrm: Genesys: The Doctor uses this as an excuse for abandoning Ace in the company of an increasingly drunk and horny Gilgamesh. Luckily, Enkidu is present in the role of the Only Sane Man. In the whole of Mesopotamia.
- The Wheel of Time:
- White Tower initiates suffer this trope. They must do all their chores by hand, without using their mystical powers, and are given extra chores that could be more efficiently done by the Tower's many paid servants because menial labor is misery which builds character. This is also used to train more advanced initiates (who are now doing strenuous lessons in addition to the chores) to not display their stress in front of the newer initiates, building the apparent impassivity expected of graduates. (As the lessons are designed to require students more than the supervised thus permitted practice time to pass them, they're also encouragement to learn to cheat the rules and get away with it — another desired character trait.)
- Black Tower trainees invert both the trope and the above example. They must use their mystic powers for everything, including lighting lamps and cooking dinner — so when they first start their lessons, they find themselves eating raw food in the dark. This is misery too, but the instructors couldn't care less about "character." They're just motivating the students to practice and learn to adequately control their power; an important lesson, seeing as male channelers in this setting frequently end up either going insane or simply destroying themselves with their powers.
- A Wild Last Boss Appeared!: Essentially the core of Alovenus' behavoir. Mortals won't really be happy if a kind God just zaps all their problems away every time they need her to. Instead, they'll find more meaning in life if they have to struggle and suffer for everything before finally achieving something...with the caveat that a certain Goddess will conveniently give her Designated Hero a little push to win the day if they need it. This creates a "narrative" where "the Hero(es) always win(s) over "evil", with all of said parties determined and even manipulated by her, giving mortals the impression that their actions and struggles are only their own. Thus, they do not attribute their suffering to Alovenus, and praise her for her favor when they're successful and joyous.
- Doc Martin: Martin was brought up by emotionally distant and borderline abusive parents who resented having a child at all.
Martin: I was locked in the cupboard under the stairs as a child, and it never did me any harm.
- Downton Abbey: Cora tries to use this approach to comfort Edith after she's jilted at the altar by Sir Anthony.
- Game of Thrones:
- One of Syrio Forel's teachings to Arya Stark: "Every hurt is a lesson, and every lesson makes you better."
- Jaime's period of suffering after losing his hand, which Brienne calls "one taste of the real world where people have important things taken from them", has made him far more introspective, kinder and restrained for the most part.
- The George Lopez Show: An Aesop that appears in several episodes dealing with George's childhood. Growing up poor, abused, and neglected, he suffered from learning disabilities and was left with a lot of issues. However, George gained a lot of lessons from it which he applies throughout the series. It gave him the nerve to ask Angie out and allowed him to work his way up to manager at Powers Bros. Aviation, he has proven more responsible than many of the other adults, and he's a lot better off than his best friend Ernie (who still lives with his parents for most of the series, and is incapable of getting and keeping a woman in his life) or his half-brother George II (a spoiled rich kid who blew through his trust fund and is in massive debt, working a minimum wage job at a skate shop), who had good parents.
George: [to Benny] I'm anything but a wuss. If you weren't so tough on me, I'd be the type of person who just sat back and let somebody destroy my clubs. Instead, I'm the type of person who breaks into their car and takes this. [pulls Benny's steering wheel out of a bag, smiling the entire time]
- Malcolm in the Middle: The series finale has Lois sabotage Malcolm's chance at a high paying job because she believes he needs at least a decade more of suffering before he's ready to pursue what (she believes) is his destiny: to become the best President of the United States ever. However, she does have a point under the insanity: Malcolm is a genius and had been accepted to Harvard, where he could learn and excel at anything he set his mind to (which given his IQ and resourcefulness, could be world-changing) if he worked his ass off for it and learned to value hard work and opportunity, rather than waste his potential on working for a pointless corporation that dropped a job in his lap and wanted nothing more from him than what he was capable of in his senior year of high school.
- Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: A positive example is shown when black ranger Zack Taylor tries to impress his crush Angela with lunch at a fancy restaurant and pearl earrings on her birthday. Due to a number of circumstances beyond his control, the whole thing crashes and burns, and he later realizes that trying to impress someone with money is not the way to win them over. Angela herself - who up to this point had been fairly snobbish and materialistic - also realizes that she hadnt treated Zack particularly well, and softens when he gives her a bouquet of flowers.
- Red Dwarf: Ace Rimmer is this all over. He is different from normal Rimmer because their shared timeline split off when they were children. One of them got held back a year in school, the other didn't. It turns out it's actually Ace that was held back a year, and so he suffered for it (ie by being bullied and suffering the humiliation of it all), and decided to fight back, and continued to fight back ever since, building his character and becoming awesome. Normal Rimmer, on the other hand, was never held back a year, and therefore spent the rest of his life making excuses for himself.
- Seinfeld: In one episode, Jerry claims that the ability to refrain from urinating builds character.
- Star Trek:
Oh: What you are about to experience will drive some of you mad, but those of you who endure will be stronger.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation: Subverted in the episode "New Ground," when Worf tells his son Alexander that the rigors of Klingon schools are meant to build character — but that their staying together will be an even greater challenge.
- Star Trek: Voyager: A more tragic version occurs in "Real Life". The Doctor has created a hologram family to experience a new aspect of humanity. During the course of the episode, his daughter suffers a mortal wound in an accident and is dying, so the Doctor suspends the program. Paris points out to him that normal humans don't get to evade the negative aspects of life and persuades the Doctor to see the program to completion and say goodbye to his daughter.
- Star Trek: Picard: In "Broken Pieces", Oh invokes the "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" variation when she addresses the Zhat Vash initiates.
- That '70s Show: According to Red, "In order for [my son] to be a responsible adult, he has to be miserable now!"
- The Twilight Zone (1985): In "Cat and Mouse", Andrea Moffatt's experience of being mistreated and used by Guillaume de Marchaux teaches her not to be weak and submissive anymore. She also realizes that the kind of True Love found in romance novels does not exist in the real world and finally agrees to go out with her co-worker Carl so that she can have a chance at real happiness.
- Westworld: Trauma often causes Hosts to deviate from programming in unintended ways, bringing them closer to self-awareness. They even wish to keep painful memories because they're all they have left. Ford comes to the conclusion that in order for the hosts to attain true consciousness, they had to have suffered enough first. Not so much because misery builds character, but because if the hosts were happy they would never have the incentive to change their circumstances.
- Céline Dion offers a fairly benign version in "How Does a Moment Last Forever":
- Maybe some moments weren't so perfect,
maybe some memories not so sweet,
but we have to know some bad times,
or our lives are incomplete.
- David Byrne touches on this a few times:
- In "The Cowboy Mambo (Hey Lookit Me Now)".
Green grass grows around the backyard shithouse,
and that is where the sweetest flowers bloom.
We're all flowers growing in God's garden,
and that is why he spreads the shit around.
- "Seven Years" (from Here Lies Love, Byrne's collaboration with Fatboy Slim), describes Benigno Aquino's imprisonment on trumped-up charges. He realizes:
This moment was a gift from above.
Maybe it's some kind of test.
- In "The Cowboy Mambo (Hey Lookit Me Now)".
- Kelly Clarkson's "What Doesn't Kill You (Stronger)" uses the Nietzche quote in its chorus:
What doesn't kill you makes you stronger
Stand a little taller
Doesn't mean I'm lonely when I'm alone
What doesn't kill you makes a fighter
Footsteps even lighter
Doesn't mean I'm over cause you're gone
- In "the 1" by Taylor Swift, the narrator says, "And if you never bleed, you're never gonna grow," trying to justify the pain of losing her love.
- Invoked in the Johnny Cash song "A Boy Named Sue". The titular character's Disappeared Dad gave him that name before he left, leading to Sue getting lots of mockery from the boys and girls growing up, and getting into a lot of fights and swearing to kill the man who gave him that name. Later as a man, Sue runs into his father in a bar, calls him out and punches him, leading to a brutal fight that he narrowly comes out on top of when he draws his gun before his old man could. Which leads to his father smiling and explaining why he named him Sue.
Now son, this world is rough and if a man's going to make it, he's gotta be tough. And I knew I wouldn't be there to help you along. So I gave you that name and I said goodbye, and I knew you'd have to get tough or die. It's that name that helped to make you strong. Now you just fought one hell of a fight. Got the right to kill me now, and I wouldn't blame you if you do. But thank me before I die, for the grabble in your gut and the spit in your eye, because I'm the son of a bitch who named you Sue.
- Buddhism: Partially subverted in the story of Siddhartha Gautama, the 6th century B.C.E. Indian prince who became The Buddha. After abandoning his royal life of excess to seek enlightenment, Siddhartha meditated fiercely and fasted so rigorously that he nearly died of starvation before realizing that neither extreme luxury nor extreme deprivation were viable paths to follow. Thus he promoted the idea of the "Middle Way" between the two, and laid out the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path as guidelines, so that other seekers would not have to endure the same level of hardship he encountered on his journey.
- The Bible: The Apostle Paul discusses this in the Book of Romans 3-5, where he notes that suffering builds endurance, endurance builds character, and character builds hope. Considering the time period, he and many of the other Christians that were physically tortured and martyred for their faith knew what they were talking about from many experiences they could count by the lashes on their backs.
- The entire New Japan system is based on this, and while similarities exist some of their regional rivals(All Japan, FMW, etc) it's NJPW that's most famous because the characteristic they're tying to build is envy, which their strong style is supposed to be a physical representation of. From the beginning "Young Boys" are forced to live in claustrophobic quarters when they aren't waiting on established wrestler hand and foot, having to do drills in thousands of repetitions if they mess anything up-if they're lucky and don't get stuck with one of the many sadist teachers who'll really make sure they suffer. Then they're allowed to wrestle as "Young Lions" but restricted to using only the most boring and or most obvious moves to ensure they'll lose as often as possible to anyone who knows what they're doing. Then when the IWGP deems them masters of these "fundamentals" they're sent on "excursion", often to a foreign country, usually to some place where the wrestling style is different from what they're used to, to ensure whatever they've been thinking of but now allowed to do won't work and they'll lose even more until they learn to adapt. If nothing else, it's believed those who graduate from the "young lion" designation will appreciate any success they manage to achieve in New Japan, though it tends to produce a lot of arrogant kung fu guys who go on to become the aforementioned sadist teachers.
- Averted completely with Marvin the Paranoid Android from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. He justifies his misery and has no reason to gain any character from it.
- Many Role Playing Games with a Point Build System reward you with extra points for choosing flaws. Those points can then be used to buy advantages. The problem with this is that it's rather hard to judge exactly how detrimental a flaw will be — how problematic is your crippling fear of the open sea really when the campaign takes place in the desert? Thus, several RPGs have developed the solution of granting boons — extra XP, fate points, and the like — to characters at the time their flaws actually come up in gameplay rather than rewarding them in advance.
- Champions adventure Deathstroke. The title villain group decided to make their agents monitor the base's surveillance cameras instead of letting a computer do it because they felt that the boring duty would "build character".
- Invisible Sun has characters earn Joy or Despair based on the outcomes of various major events and how it affects them. 1 each of Joy and Despair merge to form a Crux which is used to purchase major character upgrades. Too much of either will not contribute.
- "Money Isn't Everything" from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Allegro sarcastically lists the deficiencies of money, concluding that "it cannot build your character or teach you how to starve".
- In J.B., this is the message Nickles wants to impress upon Job.
Every human creature born
Is born into the bright delusion
Beauty and loving-kindness care for him.
Suffering teaches! Suffering's good for us!
Imagine men and women dying
Still believing that the cuddling arms
Enclosed them! They would find the worms
Peculiar nurses, wouldn't they? Wouldn't they?
- In Bully the principal of Bullworth Academy thinks this, at one point Jimmy points out to him how the school is full of bullies, to which he cheerfully replies that "It builds character!".
- Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth: The more advanced training courses on the Farm Islands will make your Digimon stronger in less time, but they're not going to enjoy it and your Camaraderie with all those that were forced into it will drop heavily as a result.
- This is a main theme that also gets heavily deconstructed in Far Cry 3, the player character starts as a spoiled rich kid who gets kidnapped by pirates alongside with his friends and siblings, to survive and rescue his friends he must become a hardened killing machine which later causes his friends to grow afraid of him. By the end he must choose between the lives of his friends and his new life on the island if he chooses the former he then returns home with his friends but it's implied that he will have a very hard time fitting in again.
- Final Fantasy XIV Endwalker heavily focuses on the idea as a driving force of its central conflict. Hydaelyn, the setting's principal Goddess Herself, is a big believer in this; her act of sundering the world from a utopia into fourteen disparate reflections was in part inspired by the notion. Conversely, the Big Bad of the story, Meteion, came to believe that life lived in nigh-constant misery, which is destined to die eventually anyway, is not worth living at all.
Hydaelyn: To live is to suffer. And in suffering find strength, and purpose. And hope.
- Fire Emblem: Awakening — Chrom tells Lissa that "hardship builds character" while she's complaining about having to camp out. She angrily replies that she's "built quite enough character for one day".
- Taken to its most illogical extreme in inFAMOUS, where Big Bad Kessler orchestras the events of the game to torment and traumatize Cole with the purpose of preparing him for The Beast.
- Atlas from Mega Man ZX Advent takes this to an extreme degree, as her goal for winning the Game of Destiny is to plunge the world into a Forever War to weed out the weak and force the survivors to become stronger.
Atlas: It is through struggle that humans learn discipline and grow! I will be Mega Man King, for the war that never ends!
- Messiah: In the intro, God tells Bob that the upcoming mission will "help build character". "I've got enough character," Bob protests.
- The Terminals in NieR Automata, normally a Hive Mind, begins to fracture with differing opinions near the end of the game. One side thinks that A2 is too dangerous and needs to be destroyed, while the other side wants to keep A2 alive so that she can keep causing problems for them, facilitating further growth and evolution.
- Octopath Traveler: Heroine Priestess Ophelia Clement starts the story with her parents having been dead for many years. She suffered and grieved for them before her adoptive father and sister, Bishop Josef and Lianna respectively, helped her recover. Understanding the lose of those who she loved best and accepting it helps her be empathetic to others, and derails her Arc Villain's plot because he has poisoned Josef on the eve of a sacred pilgrimage Lianna is to take. When Josepf falls ill, Ophelia takes Lianna's place so Lianna may be beside Josef. When Josepf succumbs to the slow poison, Lianna is devastated and is able to be tricked into following the villain's plan, while Ophelia, with the understanding of her own tragedy, is able to resist the temptation to try and raise Josef from the dead. She is able to help Lianna accept Josef's death and stops her from inadvertently killing many people in her unholy quest.
- A central theme in Persona 5. More than a few Social Links have bittersweet endings, often involving the protagonist's friends suffering tragedy and hardship in the course of the storyline, and rising above it to become better people. The Royal Updated Re-release explores this further when Dr. Maruki gains the power to rewrite reality and tries to create a utopia where everyone is happy. Ren/Joker was never arrested, Ryuji stayed on the track team, Morgana is human, Ann's friend Shiho was never raped by Kamoshida, Madarame was a good mentor to Yusuke, Makoto and Haru's fathers and Futaba's mother never died, and Akechi survived the incident in Shido's Palace. However, the Phantom Thieves reject Maruki's actions, stating that their struggles made them stronger and helped them define who they are, and that accepting his reality would be akin to running away from their problems and metaphorically "killing" their & all mankind's development.
- Radiant Arc: Linky's mother dies in battle against Seperus, but since she's the goddess Irin, she doesn't truly die and instead just returns to Elysium. However, she decided not to tell Linky about this, since she believes he needs to know loss in order to gain the drive to become the Radiant Arc.
- Silent Hill 3 believes this to a frightening degree, deeming pain and hatred to be the best nourishment for God during Her incubation process inside Heather. Since happy people can be thoughtless and cruel, God logically needs to witness as much suffering as possible to truly understand humanity's needs. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?.
- This is the basic working principle behind Carillon in Sunless Skies — you go there to have the flaws removed from your soul by suffering various horrible punishments. The facility is run by devils and to some degree acts like a purgatory for willing patients.
- Team Fortress 2 — The Soldier believes this, according to one of his voice clips: "Pain is weakness leaving the body!"
- The final level in Um Jammer Lammy has its lyrics talk about how one should never cut corners and life's struggles will help you later on.
- Winter Voices has this in spades. By facing your hallucinations, past, and fears, you gain experience points which allow you to level up, increase your characteristics (Willpower, Humor, Memory, Perspicacity, Charisma, and Intuition) and gain new skills. Was it made clear that the skill tree is a giant snowflake?
- Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous: Regill is a big believer in this trope. As a Hellknight, he believes that punishment and misery separates the strong and worthy from the weak and unworthy, and that only strength and discipline will serve mortals in defeating the demons at the worldwound. As a result he supports the Commander becoming a Devil, Lich or an Aeon, inflicting harsh discipline on the Crusade's troops and gets along great with Lann, while having open disgust for a Gold Dragon, Azata or Trickster Commander and despising Sosiel.
- Deconstructed in Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair. Nagito Komaeda believes that hope grows greatest when born from despair, so overcoming despair makes you a better hope, and even a horrible tragedy like the death of a loved one or an innocent person can serve as a stepping stone towards strength and character. The problem is that Komaeda takes this to Blue-and-Orange Morality levels and is willing to sacrifice innocents to invoke this effect — this leads them to inadvertently aid Junko, indirectly orchestrate the first murder, manipulate his fellow classmates to his whims, and even offer himself as a sacrifice for hope, in addition to the untold amount of atrocities he committed during the Tragedy. In the interquel, he's Brainwashed and Crazy and also helps to torment Komaru in order to mold her into the Ultimate Hope after said brainwashing makes him take his ideology up a notch. All Komaeda ends up doing, though, is antagonizing their allies to the point that nobody can stand them, and Komaeda's constant preaching of this trope comes off as creepy and insane to everyone else.
- In the True End of The Letter, the surviving characters make works of art spurred on the events of the game, including the death of their friend Ashton. Zachary makes a movie about his experiences, Rebecca writes a book about Charlotte's life, and Isabella becomes a painter famous for her dark themes.
- In Steins;Gate before starting the True End to save Kurisu Okabe has to suffer through accidentally killing her himself once because without that failure he would never have the will required to obsessively devote himself to developing his own time travel to save her out of horrible guilt.
- In They Are My Noble Masters the colonel tells Ren he needs to be aware that a hard life has made him strong, but Yume's spoiled life has made her weak and that this is going to be a fundamental disconnect between them. Yume is terrible at standing up against any form of adversity with her Cool Big Sis servant Natose desperately trying to keep her from ever being hurt.
- Zero Time Dilemma somewhat deconstructs this. Series Big Bad Delta instigated the events of the Zero Escape trilogy to make the characters strong and determined enough to create a better future by catching the mysterious Religious Fanatic. But since this involved dying several times in traumatic ways, among other things, the characters are not satisfied with Deltas reasoning and call him a madman all the same.
- Deconstructed and parodied in the season premiere for Battle for BFDI.
Blocky: (upon seeing the trebuchet be used) Wha—?! Y-You had this the whole ti— I didn't actually have to climb the tree!
Golf Ball: Physical exertion builds character.
Blocky: Oh! Y'know what else builds character?! (grabs Golf Ball)
(next shot of A Better Name Than That shows Golf Ball ripped in half)
- Lil Char and the Gang: Charizard insists that his son stop playing video games and go outside to get some fresh air. Char points out that it's raining. Charizard accepts no excuses.
Char: But... Won't I die?
Charizard: (tosses him a raincoat) Dying builds character.
- MAG ISA — This is the whole point of this comic. Eman, the main hero goes through a lot of misery that the average person would probably end up just killing himself/herself.
- The Order of the Stick:
- Durkon applying this philosophy:
Durkon: ...[B]ein' a dwarf is about doin' yer duty, even if it makes ye miserable. ESPECIALLY if it makes ye miserable!
- A subdued subversion: when the new High Priest of Thor offers Miko a seat while she writes a response to Durkon's request, Miko says that standing builds character. Then adds that she had been riding a horse for four days.
- Parodied when the Order and Miko, a overzealous Paladin, stop to rest. Miko prepares to make camp in a muddy, rocky ditch, only for the Order to ignore her in favour of a comfortable inn.
Miko: You should not give in to your so-called "needs"! Luxury is the herald of weakness!
- This is deconstructed as the 'misery' without any social interaction for entire months at a time turned Miko into a bitter, murderous killing machine that was barely kept on a leash by Blind Obedience. The moment she realizes her second-highest authority is an honorless manipulator (of the Chaotic Good variety), she goes rabid and outright murders him.
- Durkon applying this philosophy:
- In this User Friendly strip, Sid claims that obsessive addiction to Nethack is a good thing because it helps build character.
- Critical Role: A recuring theme in the second campaign and the backstories of the Mighty Nein: the negative figures in their pasts try to justify the miseries they inflicted with this defense, and take credit for their success.
- Beau's father, fed up with her rebellious indescressions, sent her to the Cobalt Soul to have them "beaten out of her". Through the campaign, Beau rose to become an Expositor, but after seeing her father again after many months, she was conflicted over the idea that his cruel treatment helped lead to her success (which is much more atributable to the influence of her mentors and her found family with the Nein).
- Caleb, with his peers Astrid and Eodwulf, were selected out of magic school by Trent Ikithon and subjected to Training from Hell to become magical assassins, a process which broke Caleb and landed him in a sanitorium for years. Trent believes this is part of the price of maintaining the Dwendalian Empire. Well into Caleb's recovery and growth as a wizard in the company of the Nein, Trent invites them to dinner, and in the course of the discussion, takes credit for Caleb's new growth, hinting that he ordered him healed in the sanitarium and let him escape. As the dinner ends, Caduceus, the Nein's firbolg cleric and Warrior Therapist, speaks up and delivers an epic takedown of Trent's worldview.
Caduceus: I think perhaps you are one of the most powerful mages that I've ever had the pleasure to be in the presence of. And for this, I would offer a gift. I think it has been a long time since anyone has pointed out to you that you're a fool. Pain doesn't make people, it's love that makes people. The pain is inconsequential. It's the love that saves them. And you would know that, but you have none around you.
- Yasha's patron, the Storm Lord, takes on a slightly more positive version of the trope. As a god of battle, through dreams and trials, he encourages Yasha to face the pain of her past (the death of her wife, being controlled by a fiend to murder those responsible) and find the strength to break free of the chains holding her back.
- Mercury's father, Marcus, in RWBY raised him to be an assassin by brutalizing him regularly as 'training' and stole Mercury's Semblance, calling it a crutch and saying he would get it back when he got strong. This definitely did a number on Mercury despite his attempts to deny it, and Tyrian suggests he only joined Salem out of fear of leaving the cycle of abuse.
- SF Debris takes major issue with this viewpoint in his review of the Voyager episode "Real Life". That episode plays the trope by having a holographic doctor suffer one of the worst real-life nightmares: hopelessly watching his ill child die. Not surprisingly, the issue never resurfaced for the character in question, which is what earned the episode Chuck's ire. It probably didn't help that, as Chuck Sonnenberg relates in the video in question, he had twin sons born prematurely and had to watch them on the knife-edge between life and death, struggling to survive.
"So, please. Do not diminish the seriousness; the severity of the wound this creates, by telling me that it builds fucking character."
- Woolie Versus: Woolie reaches a breaking point in the epilogue of Death Stranding after one pointless bit of wordplay too many and is unable to contain his rage for the game's writing. Reggie, playing devil's advocate, insists that the experience will allow Woolie to uncover many connections he never noticed before. Woolie replies with "No, it just makes everything taste like nothing".
- Worm: Sophia Hess, school bully and alleged superhero, justifies her behaviour with a mix of this and Social Darwinism.
- Whatifalthist:Rudyard believes that struggle and conflict strengthen people, and in several videos explores how society trying to protect people from any kind of harm holds them back because it doesn't prepare them for the real world.
- Adventure Time: Downplayed and inverted (focusing on the lack of misery) in the episode "Puhoy." Finn finds a portal to a 'verse made entirely of pillows. Everything comes easily there to him; monsters are easy, the Girl of the Week easily falls in love with him. Nothing is a challenge. After an entire lifetime there, Finn returns to his own world and, when Jake asks what happened, says "Eh." Even if it was All Just a Dream, the fact that it was all soft and comfortable made it not even worth remembering. (That episode also shows a little bump in Finn and Flame Princess' relationship, which is invigorating because it's not always easy).
- American Dad!:
- Tears of a Clooney: Lampshaded and inverted when Roger recruits a group of young orphans to work on the impromptu vineyard hes set up. One of his first statements to them is that hard work builds character, but the children essentially function as an unpaid and abused labor force (i.e. slavery) until Child Protective Services rescues them.
- In one episode, Stan decided that Steve needed to be bullied for being too passive and Weak-Willed and took up the job himself. In response, Steve found the guy who tormented his dad in school on Facebook and paid him to beat Stan up. A few seasons later, it turns out Stan's original lesson was right, and Steve not only gets beaten up by said bully but also the new bully he had been dealing with. Of course, it didn't address the original problem that Steve is completely physically incapable of fighting, and no amount of bullying is going to solve that.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender:
- This basically became Zuko's personal life philosophy.
Zuko: I don't need luck though, I don't want it. I've always had to struggle and fight and that's made me strong. It's made me who I am.
- He's just trying to please his Manipulative Bastard father, who claims this is the case, but his philosophy is actually Might Makes Right. His son doesn't agree? Teach him a permanent lesson... On his face.
Ozai: You will learn respect, and suffering will be your teacher.
- It takes Zuko three years to realize that Ozai using this trope to justify his cruelty is bullshit and Call The Old Man Out and tell him to Shut Up, Hannibal! With a "No More Holding Back" Speech.
Zuko: How can you possibly justify a duel with a child?
Ozai: It was to teach you respect!
Zuko: It was cruel! And it was wrong!
- In a more unusual example, Avatar Yangchen tells Aang that the reason the Avatar is born human, and thus capable of making mistakes, and not an immortal spirit on a mountain somewhere is so they can relate to and show compassion towards the people of the world by experiencing not only sadness and anger but joy and happiness as well. Considering Raava's disdain towards humanity before getting to see Wan's noble side and eventually fusing with him, she's got a point.
- This basically became Zuko's personal life philosophy.
- Batman is always described as the very essence of this Trope. The loss of his parents made him the (probably) most strong-willed person in the DC/DCAU-universe.
- BoJack Horseman: Turns the lack of this into a Hard Truth Aesop — Diane's childhood abuse was not "good damage" that transformed her as a person. It was just damage inflicted upon her by those that should have loved and supported her, and trying to convert it into "good" damage instead of putting it behind her was doing even more harm.
- Danny Phantom: Early in the series, Valerie Gray was cruel, selfish, and mean-spirited like her popular friends. However, her descent into unpopularity as a result of her poverty has her turn her life around (though also by being a pawn in Vlad Masters' schemes), by becoming a ghost hunter (he gave her the equipment.) She ends up becoming a better person over time though it takes a bit of a while. Granted, Danny showing her compassion for her descent (likely because he had an impartial hand in it) also helped. It's also implied she made more of an effort when in the special "Reign Storm", Sam points out that Valerie was an Alpha Bitch in the past and thus have little reason to trust her. Her shocked look implies that she actually listened. By the end of her growth, she has become more compassionate and her vigilantism more to help people out, even pursuing a relationship with Danny. She ends it however in order to better hunt ghosts and fear of him getting hurt (despite his family being the original ghost hunters.) She does end up becoming less harsh on ghosts, especially when she finally learns Vlad was using her against Danny.
- Ed, Edd n Eddy: As a Sadist Show, it is bookended by this philosophy. In the first episode, following their wrongful conviction of Jonny 2x4 being a "serial toucher" (the episode revolved around someone touching and taking the kids' things; it later turned out the items were just misplaced), Eddy brushes it off by saying "a little childhood trauma builds character." In The Movie, it's revealed that Eddy's older brother literally beat this philosophy into him through years of abuse.
- Gravity Falls: In the episode "Dreamscaperers", Stan claims the reason he's so rough on Dipper is that he's trying to toughen him up, citing the boxing lessons his own dad made him take as a child as an example.
- However, this trope is deconstructed: because Stan never showed Dipper much affection on top being so hard on him and only him, it only took one sentence out of context to convince Dipper that Stan hated him up until he overheard Stan talking to Soos in his memories about his rough experiences.
- House of Mouse: In the episode "Goofy For A Day" Max decides to be a waiter to prove to Goofy that waiting is an easy job. When it proves to be tough for Max, Goofy tells him that "goofing up builds character", doubling as Taught by Experience.
- Johnny Test: Johnny's dad explains why he's forcing Johnny to use his old World War II issue backpack which put Johnny at the bottom of the middle school food chain:
Johnny's Dad: Johnny, my father made me use this ugly World War II backpack through middle school. The shame and embarrassment I felt from carrying that bag has followed me for the rest of my life. But it built character.
- The Simpsons:
- In the Season 2 episode "Dead Putting Society", Bart and Todd Flanders are neck-and-neck at a miniature golf competition (largely because of their fathers) and they have this conversation when they're tied at the final hole:
Bart: This is pretty tense, isn't it, Todd.
Todd: Yeah, my knees are shaking, I got butterflies in my stomach... But I guess this builds character.
Bart: Who wants to build character? Let's quit!
- After Homer has a massive heart attack and ends up in the hospital needing a quadruple bypass, he asks Dr Hibbert if "what doesn't kill him will make him stronger". Hibbert points out that this only applies to mental suffering, and that Homer is currently as weak as a newborn kitten.
- In the Season 2 episode "Dead Putting Society", Bart and Todd Flanders are neck-and-neck at a miniature golf competition (largely because of their fathers) and they have this conversation when they're tied at the final hole:
- South Park: The episode "The List" plays with the trope a bit. The premise is a list made by the girls ranking by cuteness comes out and Kyle becomes depressed because he's voted as the ugliest boy in his class. During said depression, he is visited by the ghost of Abraham Lincoln, who shows him that ugliness can be a blessing in disguise: Beautiful people often don't have to develop positive character traits in order to get what they want in life, since people usually flock to them, give them exaggerated — or even false — compliments and hand them everything because they are physically attractive. As a result, the beautiful people who rely solely on their appearance will have no redeeming qualities once their looks begin to fade with age. Abe points to their classmate Clyde (voted the cutest) who was indulging in himself as proof. Ugly people have nothing handed to them and they must earn what they seek through hard work and thus will develop a strong character. However, this is subverted at first as Kyle just gets angrier at being told how to feel and he forms a plot to burn down the school in retribution.
- It is played straight albeit in a roundabout sort of way through the B-Plot, which has Stan talk to Wendy (they're off at the time) about Kyle's ranking and their investigations reveal the list is a forgery made by some of the girls. The whole reason was that Clyde's father runs a shoe store and the girls hoped to get free shoes by buttering Clyde up. Once the two stop Kyle from committing arson and offers to show him the real list, Kyle refuses, preferring to work on himself rather than base his self-esteem on what other people think. Given how he learned Clyde was artificially bumped up just to be used, he probably learned a similar lesson and shows that misery only builds character if that's how you choose to handle it.
- Transformers: Prime: Miko receives a hefty and long overdue dose of this during "Hurt". Mostly spending the first season and a half acting as a dipstick Leeroy Jenkins who loves getting in the way of missions, "Hurt" brings her down to earth with killing Hardshell, and realizing her buddy Bulkhead will never fully recover from his injuries.note
- Actress Virginia Hey has not been shy about saying that her time on Farscape was incredibly rough on her. Aside from having to shave her head and eyebrows off to play the alien Zhaan, she also had to be slathered in blue body paint that caused her kidney problems during her time on the show (although it should be noted she has no ill will toward the show or its fanbase and was willing to stay on if they could reach a compromise involving a bald cap and a different makeup, but they couldn't, and she simply couldn't handle the physical toll anymore). Looking back, she said that she actually enjoyed it for a while, since she felt like, as a former model, she was "paying her dues" and earning her stripes as a full-fledged actor. Other actors (often jokingly, but not always) have similar ideas of having to "pay your dues," involving things like filming scenes in the freezing cold, working with uncomfortable prosthetics, or having to work a long run in theater before truly being able to call yourself an actor.
- Friedrich Nietzsche is famous for saying "That which does not kill us makes us stronger". As the philosophy is antithetical to the concept of Inborn Fitness, his belief in this is often used as evidence that he wasn't a Social Darwinist like many who associate him with the Nazis attest.
- During most of his public sparring sections heavyweight boxer Muhammad Ali would intentionally let bigger men, like Larry Holmes, beat him up in the ring without showing any of his offensive skills. This was so he could master taking punishment and have better defensive reflexes. It paid off during his historical victory against "Big" George Foreman in Zaire Africa when he laid against the ropes and let Foreman tire himself out by taking punishment. However, this backfired in his later life, as he developed Parkinson's Disease as a result, and suffered greatly.
- Unhappy with the way his shy, sensitive son was turning out, Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria deliberately invoked this, assigning a Drill Sergeant Nasty-type to 'toughen the boy up'. It ended up backfiring rather spectaculary.
- Franklin D. Roosevelt believed that his disability gave him the strength and compassion for others that was needed to be president during the Depression.
- The actor and musician Hugh Laurie was raised Presbyterian with the idea that all fun is suspicious. He has stated that he thinks he may be incapable of having fun, and describes his relationship to pleasurable things as such: "I have this thing in my head... if a thing is pleasurable it can't be any good... I try to flip it the other way and make it not pleasurable to make it good-which is insane, it doesn't make any sort of sense".
- Any sports fanbase that endures years of finishing low on the rankings or getting close but no cigar to the title (sometimes, alternating on both). Some even get famed about being miserable (with moments of hope that they know won't last), such as the Chicago Cubs, New York Jets, Toronto Maple Leafs, and any team from Cleveland, Buffalo and Kansas City. Or, across the pond, Liverpool FC, formerly the most successful team in English history and a European giant that last won the Premier League title in 1990. Having spent most of 1990s and early 21st century yo-yoing from 'almost, but not quite' to 'embarassingly low ranking' and back again, in a grand incident of Yank the Dog's Chain, they first racked up the third highest points tally in top division history... only to lose the title by one point to eventual champions Manchester City, who racked up the second highest points tally, then, in 2019-2020, when cruising to the Premier League with an unassailable 25 point lead, were suddenly stopped by the Covid-19 pandemic.
- Believed by Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who at the age of 12 wanted to become an ascetic and chose Stoic philosophy. He is known as one of the best emperors of the Roman Empire. It horribly backfired on his son Commodus, who was raised in a similar way. He became a weak-minded and cruel sybarite, who enjoyed luxuries and extravaganza and admired physical prowess and pleasures.
- Economics is literally defined as "the science of scarcity" - since it is a given that no one has everything they could possibly need or want, economics is the science of making decisions to maximize the value of what they do have, and making the best use of resources that are limited and/or perishable.