Robert Horry once said, “Pressure can break pipes. It can also make diamonds.” Indeed, pressure can be both a motivating force but also a cause for unhappiness, as it can cause one to feel stressed, but can also be construed as a motivating force to push oneself to do better, or do something faster. At the same time, it is important to recognize that pressure is such a broad concept and can come from so many various sources and manifest itself in so many different forms. It can be self-imposed or due to expectations from others; it can be short-term such as when there is an urgent deadline, or long-term such as when one feels pressured to lead his or her life is a different way. It can be argued that pressure when based on goals will be more likely to be a motivating force, while pressure that is experienced over a longer period of time, will more likely cause one unhappiness.

Some argue that without pressure, no ‘diamonds’ can be made. This is due to it contributing to two ingredients for success – the desire for success and the motivation to improve oneself. Without a desire to succeed, there is no need for pressure. The greater the desire, the greater the pressure. Additionally, pressure causes one to act, to improve oneself. Without pressure, people will not work harder in preparation and people will not be able to train themselves mentally to be resilient and strong, qualities which will help them advance their goals.  In this sense, pressure is an example of an obstacle in one’s life, which challenges one to overcome it, with the prize on the other side. Pressure requires one to be tougher, and requires one to manage it. Athletes who are training their entire lives in order to put on their best performance at a competition will undoubtedly feel pressured, but that is not because they are not well-prepared, but rather because they want to triumph badly. When pressured, people work harder. Pressure thus does not promise to be easy, but it does promise to be rewarding.

However, pressure that comes from the expectations of others can be both a motivating force and a cause for unhappiness. In the case of children who are expected by their parents to do well in subjects – even those they have no interest in – pressure is clearly undesirable. However, for pressure that arises from the weight of other people’s hope such as when entire countries rally behind their athletes, it can be considered a motivating force. When it was plausible that Joseph Schooling could clinch Singapore’s first gold medal, there were talks about it all over the country, which is likely to have increased the stakes and pressure for Schooling. Yet, Schooling used such pressure as motivation, and ultimately did manage to clinch the gold medal and made his supporters proud. This is as the pressure was not only a form of expectation, but also support; it is not based on punishment, but rather goodwill and hope, and in this way, pressure can be positive.

However, pressure when imposed on oneself over prolonged periods of time can make one unhappy, as it can lead to both physical toil and mental turmoil. Science has shown that prolonged pressure can lead to symptoms like migraines and headaches which impede functioning, as well as well-being. It has effects on nearly every part of the body, from causing gastrointestinal disorders to endocrine malfunctioning. Unexplained disorders are thus often a result of stress. For example, athletes who are pressured may force themselves to train way harder than they actually want to, making them fatigued and ironically, able to perform less than optimally, setting themselves up for a vicious cycle as they then try to train even harder to make up for it. People may tell themselves that they are never good enough, which in suitable doses makes one work harder. However, if one continually subjects oneself to such criticism whether by themselves or by others, they are setting themselves up for lower self-esteem. The pressure thus causes people to break because regardless of how much they work, they never think they can succeed. This is the basis of the best-selling book ‘Secret’, which encourages readers to do the opposite and believe in themselves instead of being overcome by pressure.

Pressure can also cause unhappiness when they make goals the end in itself.  Ultimately, this can even lead them to think of success as something they must have, rather than a desirable goal. The difference between the two is that the former will make people tie their self-worth and their entire world to whether they succeed or not. This is so true for many students who are extremely pressured by expectations arising from themselves, teachers or parents that they must perform well for their exams, believing that any other outcomes are construed as failures. Stories of young children committing suicide after scoring poorly for exams in Singapore are unfortunate examples of how pressure can be toxic.

Finally, we must also take into consideration the fact that different people have different capacities for pressure. While some enjoy the adrenaline of pressure and perform well under it, others cannot cope with it and break under it. It is thus more important for people to identify for themselves when they are over the optimal threshold, when pressure switches from motivating force to a cause for unhappiness, and then apply strategies that work for them. Different people have different strategies to deal with it: some people will take a break from what they are pressured by, such as by playing recreational sports or engaging in their hobbies while others require the support of family and close ones.

In conclusion, whether pressure is a motivating force or a cause for unhappiness depends on why one is experiencing pressure, and how one experiences it.  As with many things in life, balance is what people should strive for, in order to make pressure a friend rather than a foe.