The Anatomy Of Unhappiness

We seek to be happy. Happiness may the objective of all human endeavors. But often happiness eludes us.

Unhappiness is a feeling. Simple as this may seem, it is important to understand that this feeling is an internal mental condition. It is not a situation in the real world; it is something that happens inside our mind.

Unhappiness starts as reaction to a disagreeable situation. Somebody shouted at me, I lost my job, my home is about to be repossessed, my spouse is angry with me. The first natural reaction of the mind is one of feeling unhappiness. Thus far things are ok. What follows is not.

We then feed this feeling till it becomes a demon in our mind.

How do we feed it? After we have experienced this emotion or feeling, the mind then plays out “logic” to justify our emotion. We look for reasons to justify our negative thought. We play out the “fight” in our minds again and again and deepen the emotion. We are convinced about how unjust the world has been to us. The unhappiness grows.

This emotion lasts far beyond the initial transaction that caused it. From an irritation, the feeling that can then grow to hurt, anger, hatred, fear. This feeling takes a life of its own and then lasts well after the initial planting of the seed. Sometimes it lasts a lifetime.

Such strong emotions can cloud our judgment, take hold of our lives and that of others around us, towards even more grief. Our sense of anger and hurt then clouds our future interactions with the perceived source of conflict; further feeding itself.

We then express our emotions towards others, who then pick them up. Like a cyclone feeding on the air around it, what started as a small seed of unhappiness takes a life of its own, spreading destruction in its wake.

It may seem like that our anger, hurt, fear may be justified given the situation. However, the reality is that it is merely a habituated response to the external world.

The whole process of sensing an input, evaluating, reacting and amplifying and reacting again, happens at such a rapid pace, it seems that there is no other way to be.

A deeper understanding will reveal that our reaction is a choice that we make. We can choose to respond wisely.

Meditation can help us become more aware of this process. We then start to change our habit of reacting and amplifying.

The central teaching of the Buddha was to examine the anatomy of unhappiness (suffering) and understand how to change this deep-seated habit.

Some of the implications of this understanding are:

1. Happiness is not the pursuit of conducive situations

2. Happiness is an internal endeavor

3. We chose our mental states

4. We can practice the art of being happy

In the posts that continue, we will look at unhappiness in other ways.

Specifically we will examine what can be done at the workplace to be happier and create happier organisations.


5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Ramesh Krishnan on September 22, 2011 at 8:16 pm

    Commenting with a story that I received from one of my friends. Thought that it was quite apt to the post above.

    The old Master instructed the unhappy young man to put a handful of salt in a glass of water and then to drink it. “How does it taste?” the Master asked. “Terrible,” replied the boy.

    The Master then asked the young man to take another handful of salt and put it in the lake. The two walked in silence to the nearby lake and when the guy swirled his handful of salt into the lake, the old man said, “Now drink the water from the lake.” As the water dripped down the young man’s chin, the Master asked, “How does it taste?” “Good!” remarked the boy. “Do you taste the salt?” asked the Master. “No,” said the young man.

    The Master sat beside this troubled young man, took his hands, and said,” The pain of life is pure salt; no more, no less. The amount of pain in life remains the same, exactly the same. But the amount we taste the ‘pain’ depends on the container we put it into.

    Too often we are more focused only on the pain, and miss out on the gain. What is required is to change our paradigm and make a shift in our focus. Stop being a glass. Become a lake! Failure doesn’t mean when we fail, but when we don’t want to come up again.

    Let us sit down and make a List of all our Pains. Also, let us analyze the containers we have been using and how today we can make a shift and gain from it. So when we are in pain, the best thing we can do is to enlarge our sense of things…..


    • Good one RK. Too often we spend complaining about what we dont have. A look at what we do have will reveal that most of us are in the top 99 percentile in the world.


  2. Posted by Sanjiv Marathe on December 9, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    All the techniques to counteract unhappiness would work, only if one understands the he is separate from his body. It’s like “I, the me within me” can watch my actions- the first step. And later with practice, convert “involuntary reaction” to “controlled response”.


    • I am not sure that it requires the level of maturity you mention. Even if we can intellectually understand this idea, it will help us relate to unhappiness better.

      Of course, if we can separate the “I” from the mind-body, one reaches a very high level of preparedness.


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