April 19, 2016
Happiness can be incredibly elusive in a world so full of options. Some people are happy when they’re helping people. Some people are happy when they’re competing (and winning). Some people are even happy when they’re unhappy. But if you want to know what the source of unhappiness is in your life, just look to the teachings of famed Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard.
“The unhappy man is always absent from himself, never present to himself,” says Kierkegaard in his book Either/Or: A Fragment of Life. “But one can be absent, obviously, either in the past or in the future. This adequately circumscribes the entire territory of the unhappy consciousness.”
While Kierkegaard’s intellectual 19th century dialect is intimidating, the wisdom gleaned from these words are true and timeless: to be happy is to live in the present. There are literally millions of things trying to distract you from being happy. Whether it be bills, basketball or buying a new phone because yours fell in the toilet, unhappiness is more about over thinking than anything else; by keeping ourselves “busy”, we remove ourselves from our present beings, and ultimately set ourselves down a path to unhappiness.
Kierkegaard goes on to explain that there are two ways people live outside of the present: in the future and in the past. When living in the past, you rely on memory to be your source of happiness. This leads to an inevitable inability to achieve what you once had, resulting in your unhappiness. Likewise, when living in the future, you rely on hope to sustain your happiness. You view the present as merely a stepping stone to what will be, leading to the realization that the expectations are more important than your achievements, which results in your unhappiness
The importance of being happy probably doesn’t need to be reiterated. In fact, studies have shown that being unhappy has no effect how long you are going to live. However, it can cause everything from weight problems and financial debt and relationship issues and addiction, which aren’t exactly the most healthy things for a person.
Unhappiness is, however, just as complicated as happiness. Without it, there would be no drive, no desire, no need to be happy. What some people don’t realize is that unhappiness is so uncomfortable, so unenjoyable, so mind-bogglingly frustrating that people make concentrated efforts to avoid it. This discomfort helps build bridges, forge relationships and develop skills in people that would otherwise binge watch the entire Harry Potter series on a daily basis.
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