There are so many ways to be unhappy. I have seen most of them.

I have met people who are materially affluent who are unhappy. I have seen people who are unhappy on vacation, unhappy in retirement, and unhappy when they are working sixty hours a week.

There are unhappy married people and unhappy single people. You can be unhappy with a house full of children or unhappy in splendid isolation. You can have a wonderful job and be unhappy, or hate your work and be unhappy. Friends can be a source of unhappiness; you can be unhappy all by yourself.

Unhappy people can be highly educated or unable  to read or write. There are unhappy people who break world records in the Olympics and unhappy people who spend their lives sitting on the sofa watching television.

There are unhappy people who are famous and adored, and unhappy people who live in complete obscurity. I have known unhappy people who are physically healthy, and unhappy people who are struggling with physical challenges. It is possible to be unhappy living in the country, or unhappy living in the city.

Unhappy is an entirely transportable state. It is no respecter of circumstance. There are situations in life which may be easier, more comfortable, and more desirable; but these are no guarantee that a person will avoid being unhappy.

Anyone who depends upon their circumstances to make them happy, risks a life of unhappiness.

Eckhart Tolle in his 2009 interview with Oprah Winfrey said,

The only illusion would be to expect things to provide some ultimate satisfaction in your life. Things can’t do that. The world of form can’t ultimately satisfy you. You can enjoy the world of form, but the true satisfaction doesn’t come from there. The world can’t do that. The world can’t make you happy. Things cannot give you happiness.

Alred Delp, wrote from Tegel prison in Berlin in 1944 after being arrested by the Nazis,

The conditions of happiness have nothing whatever to do with outward existence. They are exclusively dependent on our inner attitudes and steadfastness.

From all the unhappiness I have seen, there is only one way I know to be happy. You have to choose to be happy, regardless of your circumstances.

Paul wrote from prison,

I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. (Philippians 4:11,12)

Happiness is an inside job. While external circumstances can certainly make life easier or more difficult, there are no external circumstances that are guaranteed to turn an unhappy person into a happy person, or that can ultimately destroy the happiness of a happy person.

Jacques Lusserayn was a blind internee in Buchenwald concentration camp. On May 8, 1944,  after coming perilously close to dying, he left the infirmary in the camp and wrote,

I left the hospital on my two feet. I was nothing but skin and bones, but I had recovered. The fact was I was so happy that now Buchenwald seemed to me a place which if not welcome was at least possible. If they didn’t give me any bread to eat, I would feed on hope.

Reflecting on his remaining elven months as a prisoner Lusserayn observed,

It was the truth. I still had eleven months ahead of me in the camp. But today I have not a single evil memory of those three hundred and thirty days of extreme wretchedness. I was carried by a hand. I was covered by a wing. One doesn’t call such living emotions by their names. I hardly needed to look out for myself, and such concern would have seemed to me ridiculous.

Like the New Testament Apostte Paul, Lussearyn had discovered the source of contentment; it did not reside in his external circumstances. It lay within. Paul and Lusserayn were happy because they had found within themselves the power to choose happiness. They had ceased catering to the unhappy person within who is unhappy regardless of circumstance. They had chosen to nurture the happy person who was able to find contentment in the most dire circumstances. This is true freedom and the only hope of real happiness.


Dan Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness has the science that backs up the argument in this post:

If you watch this presentation, keep in mind one of the comments attached:

gustowdr2 2 days ago

He appears to misstate his conclusion at around 18:05. His example shows that the irreversible condition IS conducive to synthetic happiness not the opposite.