I do not know how I would cope with my life if I were not Catholic. I can easily tell you that I would not cope well. Years of living beforehand would bear that out.
Here are some differences in how I get through tough times today vs. during my "heretical" years.
Free will has to do with making decisions without being driven by emotions. I am making more solid, logical and clear choices now than I ever have before. During my "heretical years," I believed that free will had to do with extricating myself from the oppression of moral obligations in order to be free to follow my feelings. How did that work out for me? Hmm.. I'm writing this... so...
When I pursue being of the greatest service to God above the motives for comfort, public opinion or material things, each decision I make has meaning. When I work to make my life a gift to God rather than a gift to myself, I do not have time to immerse myself in self-pity or resentment.
Good feelings and material things will all pass away. Peace in my heart, mind and soul will never be possible if I waste any time trying to chase any other goal than to serve God.
(3) Suffering can help me.
A central focus of our faith is how suffering in life can help us. No moment of suffering need ever be wasted. We would all agree that an athlete preparing for competition puts herself through a lot of pain and personal sacrifice towards achieving her goal. A person preparing himself for holiness, in order to prepare for the life beyond, will need to make similar sacrifices and endure pain as a part of developing character.
When I suffer, I can lift that suffering up to God as a sacrifice for the good of another. I can also use that suffering as an opportunity to surrender my human will to God's will, as Jesus did. I can experience a bond between me and Jesus as I willingly embrace suffering.
The Catholic practice of penance is also a way to use suffering as an advantage. The evil one believes he can control us with the fear of suffering and death. When we willingly choose suffering, we baffle him. That is why the Passion and Cross of our Lord is the most powerful antidote to evil.
(4) Comfort? Why?
Many people turn to religion as a comfort when life is painful and challenging, but if I use prayer primarily to make myself feel better, I am using God and not serving God. God's purpose is not to help us feel good, but to BE good- the salt and light of the earth. Although often prayer can be comforting, I do not have to be a slave to comfort when I choose to follow God. Peace is far better than comfort.