When Unhappy is Helpful



Nobody wants to be unhappy so it may seem desirable to be happy all the time. Actually, this would be quite unnatural. Few, if any of us, have a life blessed with eternal happiness. What’s much more natural is to have a variety of emotions, many of which are less than pleasing. Painful emotions are things we’d all prefer to avoid but without them our quest for happiness could be in doubt.

Unhappy Emotions

The opposite of happiness would seem to be unhappiness and as we all know there are a range of emotions within this category. At one end of the spectrum we have sadness and at the other despair. In the mix we have gloom, depression, melancholy, misery, and more besides. Why do we suffer such terrible afflictions?

Unhappy emotions tend to make us retreat from the world. We can usually continue to function but our vulnerabilities make us want to detach from others until we feel strong enough to cope. It’s a kind of emotional hibernation during which time we may feel sorry for ourselves, or even bitter, resentful and self-absorbed. Again, this is quite natural and the great benefit to be derived is that such periods provide time for reflection. When we emerge from such times we know we’ve learned a thing or two about life.

Happiness As a Goal

The problem with setting happiness as a goal is that it gives it a currency. Happiness is much more like a slippery bar of soap. Sometimes we grasp it without even realizing. Sometimes it wears a disguise and comes in the form of a new car, a wedge of cash, an expensive vacation. All of these things may provide an uplift but do they provide the contentment we seek?

One of the great hurdles to happiness is the current demand that we should all be positive and therefore happy. Adding another trace of unhappiness into our lives can feel like failure when set against the happiness goal. It’s nonsense. [bctt tweet=”To understand light, we need to know something about the dark” username=”JerryKennard”].

Purpose in life is generally considered to be a good thing. Without purpose our lives are meaningless and that, in turn, leaves us feeling pretty miserable. It seems to me that purpose in life is a worthy goal and one that’s achievable. Happiness therefore is more likely to be a byproduct of purpose.

Making Happiness Official

There are some strange ideas around about happiness. I find dedicated happiness days some of the weirdest. We all know how Christmas is meant to function and sometimes we pat ourselves on the back for getting through the day without a single cross word. Is that being happy, or is it an attempt not to be unhappy, to be inoffensive, and polite even in the face of provocation?

When I discovered the United Nations had declared 20th March as International Day of Happiness my heart sank. The declared aim of said day is that we should all be happy. Seems to me someone somewhere doesn’t quite get that happiness isn’t something we switch on for the day. 

So yes, happiness is important, and we can do things to tip the scales to our advantage in this respect. Sometimes being unhappy can probably foster future happiness – but not all happiness derives from a painful past.

See also:

How to think big and succeed
Signs you’re trapped in a comfort zone
Emotional intelligence: the complete guide

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