In John Milton’s Paradise Lost, Satan is asked why he greedily collects souls to populate hell. He gave an answer, now famous: “Solamen miseris socios habuisse doloris.”  More or less, what he said was “Misery loves company.”

Thinking of the economic and political mess that envelops our nation like a black drape and our accelerating path toward socialism, one word comes to mind: MISERY.

During the presidential campaign, Mitt Romney defined America’s misery when he specified: “unemployment, home foreclosures and bankruptcies. This is the Obama Misery Index, and it’s at a record high. It’s going to take more than new rhetoric to put Americans back to work — it’s going to take a new president.”

Yeah. He was that rich guy, and he lost. But maybe he was on to something

And maybe Winston Churchill saw America’s future when he said “Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy; its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery.”

OK. Enough of the political rant.  I started out to talk about misery in general.

Some folks seem to take Satan’s delight in knowing someone else is unhappy especially if they too are suffering from illness, economic troubles, broken romances, or a great personal loss. What broken-hearted lover wants to see some happy couple strolling hand in hand under blue skies in the park? And how thrilled can you be for an acquaintance getting a huge promotion at work when you’ve just lost your job? It’s a human reaction to be at least a little resentful.

Another category of Les Misérables are those who play the misery comparison game. I’ve played that game, and you probably have too. That’s because we don’t realize everyone experiences loss in various degrees.

So, we become angry or resentful of someone mourning the death of a pet when we have lost someone we love deeply. And, who’s to say that a 17-year-old girl who’s just been jilted by her “first love” boyfriend doesn’t hurt any less than the wife who has lost her husband of 50 years? 

 We feel more compassion for the widow, but don’t short-change the sorrow of the teenager either. There are no real winners in the misery competition.

In her book "On Grief and Grieving," Elizabeth Kubler-Ross relates a poignant illustration of the pitfalls in making assumptions about who’s hurting the most. The author tells of Brian who had to have his leg amputated due to diabetes. The loss was overwhelming to him, and he felt resentful of others who enjoyed good health and both legs.

Then, during a rehabilitation session, he felt embarrassed for his self-pity when he saw a soldier who had lost both legs. The next day, he spoke with a man who had both legs, but needed a cane to walk. Brian complained bitterly about the diabetes and the loss of his leg, but admitted the double amputee was worse off.

The man with the cane said he’d gotten hurt in an auto accident, which caused a minor back injury, and he was in rehab to regain his strength. Still comparing losses, Brian responded, “Well, at least you have two legs!” His companion answered, “Yes, I do, but I lost my wife and baby in that accident.

After years of playing the misery comparison game, I’ve discovered a basic truth: Just like sin doesn’t come in sizes, neither does sorrow. Sin is sin, and misery is misery.

 So, whether it’s personal pain or misery born of despair over unemployment, gas prices, foreclosures, inflation, or bankruptcies, we may not be the top ranked on the misery scale.

Globally speaking, Americans aren’t even in the top 10 on the Misery Index. Spain comes in at number one, followed by South Africa, Greece, Venezuela, Argentina, Slovakia, Ireland, Croatia, Portugal, and Egypt.

Instead of the misery game, I’ve been trying to play the “bad news-good news” game:

• O.K., the bad news is… (the baby woke me up crying at 3 a.m. and I have to be at work at 7.)

• But the good news is …  (it’s only a dirty diaper and not a trip to the ER with a high fever; thank God.)

This is an effective strategy whenever misery strikes. Just don’t forget the “Thank God” part.

Mary Ready of Destin is a twice-retired English teacher and long-time area resident. Her columns are published on Saturdays.