The first thing that happened with my note-taking in James is that I realized the power of cross-referencing topics across the Bible. In the introduction James speaks to the "brethern dispersed abroad." The cross-references lead me to several verses in the OT and a few in the Gospels illuminating the theme of the dispersion of the people of God and his standing promise to remember them. While James was likely simply noting that those he was writing to were in various places across the known world, God has promised that no matter how spread out we are He will always bring us together when He deems it is time.
The next few verses are either baffling or deeply reassuring:
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."Experience shows, and the text allows, that it is possible not to let "perseverance finish its work." Most of us have had extensive experience in complaining and pouting. Breaking the verses down shows us just how to see blessing (and thus have joy) in tough times:
The testing of faith is the testing of your assurance of things hoped for and conviction of things unseen. When that is tested and you hold onto that assurance and conviction against forces that would tell you otherwise (both circumstances like health issues and explicit things like vocal non-believing college professors) and you make it through, you have just gotten some quality practice at persevering. The better you get at persevering and the more trials you get through by relying on God and the Word, the more mature and complete you are.
It is the most basic benefit to suffering: getting through it makes you better at living life for God.
Perfection is not reachable in this life, so we will always be able to fall back into sin; and remember, this whole thing has nothing to do with being better qualified for salvation or changing how much God loves you. No matter how mature we get, we are still just broken sinners and humble saints whom God has chosen to do His work on Earth.
That being said, we can see now how it is possible to consider tough times "pure joy." Keep revisiting James chapter one until it sinks in. In my experience, it sinks in once I can look back on a difficult time and really see the maturing that took place.