What Causes Unhappiness? (And Why This Question is Important)

Bill Cottringer

“An unanswerable question: Are good vs. bad and fair vs. unfair dualistic, subjective judgments a human invention just to know one from the other, or do things actually have an innate positive vs. negative flavor to them in objective reality?” ~The author.

The real start of what causes unhappiness is not really understanding what “happiness” or “unhappiness” is, along with the limitation of only being able to know something by comparing it to its opposite. In this sense, you have to have experiences that make you either happy or unhappy, but the real question here is what causes things or even other people to make us happy or unhappy? That leads to the second cause.

We tend to want to look for a single cause of our happiness or unhappiness because that makes understanding and dealing with it easier, especially correcting the unhappiness. But, this just takes us back to the original cause—not being for certain what either happiness or unhappiness is, beyond looking for past experiences to remember what they look like. And, this single cause mentality actually leads us to a third cause—the highly debatable human judgmental invention of fairness vs. unfairness. Fundamental fairness seems to make us happy whereas basic unfairness leads to unhappiness. But how does that happen? What causes this type of reasoning and the ill feelings about “unfairness” that contaminate our clear thinking about all this?

This discussion could go on forever, going in many different directions and uncovering endless “causes” to unhappiness, but all leading to more chaos and less understanding. I think the key to unraveling this mystery is to openly admit to ourselves we really don’t have a clue as to how to define “unhappiness” clear enough to begin to understand even the most important “causes.” We can only define complex states, such as unhappiness, in terms of the real experiences which we “think” caused the sense of unhappiness, which are all at best unverifiable, subjective “non-facts.” By this time we get dizzy and either pass-out or give up.

To add to the confusion, our experiences in life involve thinking, feeling and behaving going in to these experiences and coming out of them too—affecting and being affected by the experiences. These things all have away of interacting with each other to hide any “causes” from lucid awareness.

So what is the solution to unraveling this tangled mental and emotional pretzel? Probably to start all over again by being open to the experience you are having in the present moment—thinking about the connection between your choices and how they seem to make you feel. What are your choices in reacting to whatever is happening to you now and what are your feelings about what is going on?

Let’s get practical here. There are some things you can do to get a better handle on understanding this happiness-unhappiness thing to lessen the grip it has on you, robbing you of your intended well-being. Here are a few insights to this process that are worth remembering:

First, make a concrete list of real past life experiences you have had under each heading—happy vs. unhappy. Then list what you think caused you to remember some of these experiences as either happy or unhappy ones. I bet you have a difficult time doing this project. The important insight to have is… why? Keep asking the question until the answer doesn’t have anything to hide behind. You will probably begin to laugh.

Secondly, as the line between happy and unhappy becomes even more blurred, think about why you class some things as fair or unfair and what causes you to make that distinction with one or two real live experiences. I bet you have trouble doing this too? Why? That is the question of the day!

The bottom line here is: No matter how smart we think we are, we can never truly understand the full complexities of complicated things like unhappiness. So many things are involved and inter-related that it is too much for the human mind to unravel without exploding from overload. Although this may be an artificially compressed and over-simplified explanation, it is really the only thing that works: The idea of unhappiness exists merely to let you appreciate happiness when the roller coaster of life is ready to take you there. So, if you have to find a single cause, let it be that! It will take the edge off of the unhappiness you are thinking in order to reduce the unhappiness you are feeling about the unhappiness you are experiencing.And that will make you a few pounds lighter for sure!

Author's Bio: 

William Cottringer, Ph.D. is President of Puget Sound Security in Bellevue, WA and also a business and personal success coach, sport psychologist, photographer and writer living in the mountains of North Bend. He is author of several business and self-development books, including, The Prosperity Zone, Getting More By Doing Less, You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too, The Bow-Wow Secrets, Do What Matters Most, “P” Point Management, Reality Repair, and Reality Repair Rx coming shortly. He can be contacted with comments or questions at 425 454-5011 or bcottringer@pssp.net