The Cause of Unhappiness


Is something disturbing, bothering, irritating, or annoying you? If so, what is troubling you? Is it a boss that is too demanding, a coworker that is too careless, or your children that are too noisy? Does the lack of civility, the increase in crime, or the apathy of young people upset you? Perhaps it is poor health, little money, or no respect that is making you depressed. With so many problems swirling around us, is the prospect of happiness a mere dream, an unattainable goal?

Did you ever learn that unhappiness is not caused by what happens to us, but by how we interpret what happens to us? I am sure you have. After all, in the last fifty years, brilliant thinkers have been hammering home this point. Over and over again, Dr. Albert Ellis (Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy) and Dr. Aaron Beck (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and their followers have been proselytizing this truth.

It wasn't until recently that so much attention has been focused on the fact that unhappiness is not caused by outside events, but by our attitude. Yet, this teaching is hardly new, for Epictetus (55 ~ 135) taught "Men are disturbed not by things but by the views which they take of them." Similarly, Marcus Aurelius (121 ~ 180) had this to say, "If you are pained by external things, it is not they that disturb you, but your own judgment of them. And it is in your power to wipe out that judgment now."

What is Marcus Aurelius telling us? Simply this, the true cause of our unhappiness is the decisions we have made to blame events and others for it. This tactic to avoid responsibility is self-defeating because it leads to a dead-end. That is, we remain stuck, with no solution in sight. It is only after accepting responsibility that we can begin to analyze the causes of our behavior and look for ways to improve it.

Well, if we already know that it is not the world, but our opinions of it that cause our constant complaints and endless bickering, why do we continue to rob ourselves of happiness? One reason is we fail to apply what we learn. As Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe (1749 ~ 1832) wrote, "Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do." Another reason why we remain mired in misery is force of habit. But the good news is we can break bad habits and return to the path of happiness by following the steps below.

1. Grapple with the teaching of Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius until you clearly understand it. Say to yourself, "People and eve