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Why Happiness is Such a Struggle

Forlorn statue

Now, I don’t know all 6.5 billion of you out there, but of the few hundred people that I do know, I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t like to be happy.  I think we all have that in common.

Type “Happiness” into Amazon’s book search and you’ll get over 350,000 results.  For some reason, humans have a lot of trouble being happy.  There’s no question that we all want it, so why are we so bad at it?  With such universal demand, you’d think we’d have it figured out by now.

There seems to be some persistent force that keeps us unhappy.  It’s almost like humans have some curious fetish with dissatisfaction. No matter how much we have in the way of resources and privileges, it isn’t enough. Even when we accomplish or acquire something that makes us feel happy, that feeling fades so quickly.

This human tendency towards unease has baffled and frustrated people for centuries.  Some of our behavior is so puzzlingly destructive and useless that we’ve developed all sorts of bizarre explanations for it: evil spirits, angry gods, government conspiracies, and the most destructive fiction of all: the idea that there are good people and bad people.

I have a better explanation.

The Unhappiness Script

“All man’s miseries derive from not being able to sit quietly in a room alone”

– Blaise Pascal

There is a force that keeps us unhappy.  And it’s somewhere between our ears.

It’s the way we’re built.  It’s in the blueprints.  It’s in our blood.  I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you that.  But don’t worry, I promise I have good news too.

You see, we inherit a lot from our ancestors. We get their DNA, their impulses, their thinking patterns, their values, their strengths and their weaknesses, whether they suit our lives or not.  Human bodies and minds still work in pretty much the same way they did thousands of years ago, before civilization, before high technology, before science.

Life was short, brutal and highly competitive.  If a caveman ever actually became happy with his possessions, with his social standing, or with what he had accomplished in his life, he was as good as dead.

Resources were too scarce; survival required great amounts of effort and force.  If he were to begin to enjoy his life as it was, other people would take his food, his mate, his role in the tribe, and his possessions.  His more competitive, more desperate peers would beat him to everything he needed to survive.

There was no agriculture to produce food in abundance, no economy to provide affordable tools, no cradle of civilization to protect him. For most of human history, happiness — as pleasant as it might be — was a deathtrap.

And guess what, your brain is calibrated this way too: away from happiness and towards insecurity.  Inside the oldest parts of our mind, something is always saying

“This isn’t good enough.  You need X.  Go get X, or you will die.”

This simple, ruthless script is programmed to drive survival at all costs.  It works exceedingly well for this purpose, but it also guarantees a life that is mostly unpleasant.

The more intense the dissatisfaction, the more incentive a person has to acquire something that promises to relieve that dissatisfaction.  Unhappiness is nature’s way of keeping people on their toes. It’s a crude system, but it has worked for thousands of years.

But today, we don’t need to be so high-strung, and we certainly don’t need unhappiness to keep us alive.  In fact, now that civilization has made survival fairly easy for most of us, these ancient impulses are a scourge.  Our heads are full of obsolete methods for survival that today only serve to make us insecure and ungrateful.

A lot of our mental systems are completely outdated.  We operate as if our impulses are telling us the right thing to do, yet most of the time these impulses are not appropriate to our circumstances.  As a result, we go overboard when it comes to issues of security (think Patriot Act), resources (think oil wars and economic hysteria) and romantic relationships, (think of how devastating it is to be dumped) just to name a few areas of imbalance.

A New Skillset

We are just not geared to be happy. Knowing this, the picture looks bleak. So what can we do about it?

There is some hope. Along with our impulses to hoard and loathe, we’ve also developed some more advanced qualities that do benefit us today. The development of compassion and respect helped people to identify with and care for others in their tribe, and get things done through teamwork.

Also promising is the still-emerging trait of nonjudgment. It allows us perceive reality and respond to it without bias and the emotional pain of judging it as good or bad. It allows for smarter, more objective decision-making, though it may not have given our ancestors the snap judgment needed to survive the day. It would not have been terribly useful in the past, but it certainly is now. Quality of life is almost solely determined by our ability to accept circumstances and respond to them regardless of their desirability.

The most potent of these newer qualities is, of course, love.

Love is a complete 180 from the archaic Unhappiness Script. The possibilities for humanity in a love-based culture are astounding to think about. There is so much to discuss about this relatively new, all-powerful human quality, so I will explore it in future posts, and not here. Suffice it to say that love is a highly advanced human activity, and as a species, we’re just scratching the surface of its potential.

For those of us living amidst civilization, we are better served by a newer skillset. Hoarding, dissatisfaction and paranoia are the crude old ways, and they just don’t fit us anymore. Compassion, calmness and love are much more useful to us.

We’re in the middle of a transition from being a survival-focused species to a much more potent quality-of-life-focused species.  The problem of individual survival is no longer the main concern for most of us, the vast majority of our time. Technology and civilization have made it easy to survive. What we yearn for now is quality of life. Yes we’re alive, but it isn’t always so pleasant to be alive.

So now that quality of life is overtaking mere survival as the biggest concern for most people, the necessary “human skillset” is beginning to shift.  Most of us now have much less use for savage survival skills such as:

    • How to hoard resources
    • How to dominate and intimidate others
    • How to stop another race from advancing

and much more use for quality of life skills such as:

    • How to keep little things from getting to you
    • How to enjoy your work
    • How to keep a sense of wonder and possibility in your life

All of the skills and insights necessary for happiness are available to us, and now with the internet, they can be communicated more efficiently than ever. Our biology may never catch up with us; it’s very slow to adapt, but that’s okay. Behavior and culture adapt much more rapidly. Straightforward happiness skills are so universally beneficial and useful that they catch on quickly.

So yes, at the end of the day there is something in us that wants to be unhappy. But hopefully now it is not so mysterious. It’s a just simple program that keeps us wanting. There are ways to deal with it, but even just being aware of the Unhappiness Script goes a long way.

No matter what skills we develop, our biology and psychology are hardwired to a large extent, so we always need to be aware that our brains are going to tell us to do stupid things sometimes. We need to recognize these patterns and know how to deal with them when they arise, if we hope to be happy on a consistent basis. Raptitude is a vehicle for helping each other to learn to do that.

I’ll share what I know, I hope you will too.


Photo by Fabbio

Kim March 24, 2009 at 4:28 pm

At the risk of overcommenting on each of your posts (I’m soooo proud! I can’t help it :) I wanted to be the first to comment on your very first Raptitude post.
I’ve often found myself thinking that even if I had everything I desired at this very moment, I would still find a way to be unhappy about it before long. Unhappiness as a survival skill didn’t really occur to me but it makes total biological sense.
Congratulations on your newest venture. I have now officially read all your posts, favourited and subscribed and not just because you’re my best friend either!
You have a gift for insightful thought and for painting a picture with experience and words. I have seen glimpses of this in you over the years and it’s so exciting to see your true calling come to fruition!
I do believe I once promised to teach you what I know if you did the same–I renew the vow and look forward to more written wisdom from you and your devoted readers.

David March 24, 2009 at 5:13 pm

I was hoping someone would get around to commenting on this one.

Thanks Kim.

sara March 28, 2009 at 10:39 am

Hey David,
I somehow stumbled on to your website and you have made me feel so serene and peaceful this morning- contrary to my previous mood. I usually feel as if I am not good at connecting with people (let alone bloggers), but I feel connected with you. You seem to have such a positive energy about you. I don’t know, something about you has touched me. If you knew me you would know just how uncharacteristic this whole post is of me (or leaving comments in general for that matter)- I am really not one to use phrases like positive energy. Thank you for making me feel like this, and I wish you the best of luck in everything you do!! You clearly have a gift.

David March 28, 2009 at 11:03 am

Wow, that’s quite a compliment Sara!

Not long ago I would have also identified myself as not very good at connecting with people. I would say the bare minimum in conversations, and people would never remember my name or start a conversation with me. I used to be so timid I was scared to order a pizza because I might say “pepperoni” wrong and embarrass myself.

I have grown an incredible amount in a short time, and it’s all because of the skills and insights I’ve learned from other people. Raptitude lets me pay it forward and still continue to learn from others. Connecting with people is what healed me.

I’m so pleased I’ve inspired you to step out of character a little bit. That’s real growth. Stick around, I think you will like it here.


Caitlin April 26, 2010 at 10:55 pm

Hi David,

I have been reading your blog for a while and truly appreciate the insights you share. I normally don’t post comments but you said something key here that is reiterated consistently throughout your blog….. ” connecting with people is what healed me” at my deepest level I believe this to be true. be it through a relationship with a significant other, mentor, friend… being understood is a true privilege that brings joy to the soul. I have founded my own movement based on this very principle. Free Soul Collective. Free Soul Collective is a movement to connect people, a chance to show each other a little grace and kindness, through quality music. Ultimately I would love for a venue to be the face of this company but for now that means small projects. This means setting when you set foot in any FSC project for ex a jam fest deep in the Rocky Mountains of CO where I live you come with the intent to share something of yourself with others in the environment and you take what you need or what you get and learn… the driving catalyst of course being music. Thank you for your fantastic insight and know that your words of wisdom will be considered and applied to Free Soul Collective and will hopefully live on long after.

sara March 28, 2009 at 11:42 am

Yes i definitely will stick around. I differ in how I don’t connect with people. I am not really very timid. I don’t really know how to explain it. I guess somewhat apathetic. If I don’t find someone very entertaining or funny or captivating somehow, I more often than not, ignore them, or force myself to be fake nice with them. I have a bit of a sarcastic personality. With people I like I am a very good listener, but I often find it very difficult to engage myself fully with most. I have often lost touch with friends because they were no longer interesting enough for me. Recently me and my brother have gone through quite a rough patch because of some stuff he did. He lives with me and I care about him very much and love him although i feel like I either ignore him by making an excuse not to spend time with him, or force myself to be nice to him which tends to make me feel drained and quite horrible. I try to be genuinely nice with him but it doesn’t seem to work. I am trying to connect with him again on and also to not feel so apathetic towards others. Wow this has turned into a long post. It would be great if you wrote an article on connecting with people, since you do it with such ease now.

David March 28, 2009 at 5:49 pm

I will definitely write some articles on connecting with people. I was averse to people in general for a long time. For me it manifested itself as quietness; I just didn’t want to get involved in interacting. Now, other people have become so fascinating to me, I love it. I love finding out their dreams and fears and values.

WordKeeper April 1, 2009 at 12:49 pm

Found you on Pavlina. Enjoyed this article. I am high on Tolle’s concept of Pain Body that someone on Pavlina introduced me to. It is in line with this article.

Keep spreading the word.

David April 1, 2009 at 12:59 pm

Hi WordKeeper, welcome to Raptitude.

Yes, the Painbody is definitely a powerful concept and I will explore it in future posts. We don’t just bear our personal baggage but that of our culture and species too. It’s tough.

Andrew Gubb April 3, 2009 at 5:13 am

I’m one of those guys who thinks that the natural human state is happiness and love, and suffering and cruelty were things that came afterwards, kind of like in the legends of adam and eve or pandora’s box……….. so happiness is actually a kind of return to a more natural state. For instance, as an adult, you want to find a state of childlikeness. As a city dweller, you should simplify and return to nature. Etc.

Or you could say that happiness is to be in sync with our true nature, which is also a part of nature as a whole having its place in the harmonious balance of things (particularly, humans are made to cooperate – it’s just how we function, we’re tribal animals not lone hunters), and unhappiness is to get out of this synchrony. Since humanity “fell” from true happiness, that is, got minds, they had to choose whether to cultivate harmony with the true nature or try and grasp onto some sort of self, some ego, which was out of harmony with the whole. The question was what they made their identity. There was nobody to say they should do one or the other, but there is always the feeling of suffering or joy which exists to show you what you have chosen.

David April 3, 2009 at 10:00 am

Hi Andrew, good to see you here.

Yes, I agree that there is something to the perspective of happiness as the ‘original’ human state. I am not a religious man but the story of Adam and Eve does serve as a powerful allegory for the human condition.

It seems to me that the emergence of the human mind brought with it both the tendency to suffer and the ability to love. I think right now humans are experiencing a conflict between these relatively newer capabilities for compassion and oneness, and the side-effect of the human mind: the ego.

I am often amazed by cats. They are graceful and calm, and very much at peace with themselves. I think the higher functions of our minds have caused us to diverge from that state of grace and ease, even though they also give us access to spectacular advances such as language and art.

Thanks for your feedback, I genuinely appreciate your way of thinking.

Jay Schryer April 21, 2009 at 3:38 pm

Hi David,

I really enjoyed this post, because it mirrors my particular observation, that love is the opposite of fear. For much of our evolution, human beings have been driven by fear. As we have evolved into higher beings, we have learned to love, and now our hopes to continue to evolve revolve around our ability to drive out our fear-based thinking and replace it with love-based thinking. I love the way you’ve written about it here!

David April 21, 2009 at 5:05 pm

Hi Jay,

I really do see a rapid expansion of human evolution happening right now, and I think the internet will be the trigger. Great ideas on how to live happily can’t hide now that the information age is here. Dogma is slipping away, people are free to learn what they like.

Good time to be alive.

Maria April 23, 2009 at 3:40 pm

After reading your comments for quite awhile on realitysandwich, I finally checked raptitude. Beautifully written and nicely designed website. To think that the raptitude thing was spooking me… I would’ve missed out!

David April 23, 2009 at 3:54 pm

Hi Maria, glad you decided to stop by! Thanks for the kind words, I hope to be hearing more from you.

Chaalz April 27, 2009 at 9:58 am

Hey David,
finally made it over to your blog after 2 weeks (mostly thanks to Jenny’s Life After College linking to you.

Your blog is a great example of what a blog should be. Simple, honest, useful. I have to agree with Sara, I did feel oddly relaxed and calm while reading. So I’m downloading your background image to check for subliminal messages like “yooooouuuuu are feeeeeeling caaaaalm”. Thats right, I’m calling you out! lol. just playin’.

Keep up the great writing. I enjoyed it. Now you’ve inspired me to give my blog some lovin’ and write a new post later today.


David April 27, 2009 at 10:48 am

Hi Chaalz, welcome to Raptitude. You sure know how to give a guy a compliment. Thank you very much.

It really pleases me to hear that my words can actually have a physical effect on a person, that means so much to me.

Please show yourself around my archives. If you like this post, there’s probably a lot you would enjoy.

Akexander April 28, 2009 at 3:55 pm

“Also promising is the still-emerging trait of nonjudgment. It allows us perceive reality and respond to it without bias and the emotional pain of judging it as good or bad.”

Judging facts as good or bad (values) is our rationality’s main purpose! When you confuse the value of poison with food you will be dead pretty soon.

David April 28, 2009 at 4:16 pm

Hehe, I won’t argue with that. I was referring to the emotional push and pull of attraction and aversion, which often defy rationality. Humans have a habit of being driven by these mental reflexes instead of objective, rational thought. It is possible to step back, out of the stream of mental reactions in order to see reality with much less bias.

Chris May 3, 2009 at 8:01 am

I think you have some really spot-on insights about humanity’s position in evolution right now, with the trait of nonjudgment emergence being one of them. I think that goodness and happiness are our original qualities, and that many humans are beginning to sort of “hack” into our brains using self-awareness, and come back from naturally peaceful states of mind with more and more and better and better ways to explain maintenance of these states. Sort of communally reverse engineering the negatives in the survival instinct. I think that the more experienced you are at being in a calm peaceful state, the more you learn how to suspend your judgement(s)- and it can quickly become very beneficial and positive in your life. You can quiet that voice in your head and allow for the spontaneity and compassion and love to shine into the now! Thank you for your blog. It is a gift.

Chris’s last blog post..New Photo Pieces

David May 3, 2009 at 8:41 am

Thank you Chris. I think calmness and nonjudgment are starting to really catch on, they’re too beneficial to stay unpopular for long.

Veda May 3, 2009 at 8:54 am

Thanks David for this Mission Raptitude of Yours !
The very reading of it ealtes… yes it does.

I find that a virtual de-recognition of the gratitude-sentiment as a socially insisted value has rendered humanity into a tragi-comic Ego-booster !! Tragic because they miss enjoying the compliments from their youngsters as in their need of it in their twilight years… and Comic because their stance of ‘not having to be grateful to the past generation for one’s present standing’ is quite commonly recognized as a ‘blatant lie’…. and that with jeers and angst by the saner ones around…

If one is … Helpful-Alert-Positive-Prankish-Yielding .. He/she is sure to be H A P P Y !!

Bangalore – India

David Cain May 4, 2009 at 6:33 am

Hi Veda, thanks!

I like that: Helpful Alert Positive Prankish Yielding. A good checklist for creating happiness.

Back to my tragi-comic ego booster :)

Jared May 6, 2009 at 2:13 pm

Oh wow!

“All man’s miseries derive from not being able to sit quietly in a room alone”
– Blaise Pascal

I can’t believe you quoted that! I love that quote. I read it in a nightly meditation book several years ago when I was praying before bed while living in a half-way house.

I was just cruising through my RSS reader and saw…Raptitude, hmm, can’t remember what his blog is about, looks like from the amount of posts I haven’t read it for a while, I’ll stop by…. Oh yeah, David. Just happened to read this post and there was that quote. Which I used a lot and have never heard anyone else talk about. So guess I am suppose to be here today. (sorry I digressed)

For years I searched for happiness outside myself. Through material and physical things, other people, etc… I could never sit still with my own thoughts because they were consumed with thoughts of guilt, self-propulsion-basically nothing spiritual. I finally discovered that life is not a search for happiness. That happiness is a by-product of right living. I can’t wrestle happiness out of life. Just like I can’t think my way into good living but must live my way into good thinking.

My problem was happiness was ALL in between my ears and not in my heart. I tried to intellectualize the pursuit of happiness. I find happiness today comes from actions involved with right living. Like being of service to others, taking care of myself, prayer and meditation, distinguishing between my wants which are never met and my needs which are always provided for (that’s a tough one).

Today, I can sit quietly in a room alone. I look forward to it. I think… “great, sometime to meditate or pray” or spend with the universe, higher power, God, whatever!

Great blog and post, thanks!

Jared’s last blog post..What Is Love to You?

David May 7, 2009 at 12:11 pm

Hi Jared, thanks for the comment.

I totally agree with you. Seeking happiness is really a self-defeating behavior, because to seek it means to assume it’s something you lack, that it’s something “out there.”

For me it comes down to understanding that human Unhappiness Script, and not taking it so seriously.

Jared May 8, 2009 at 7:36 am

Yes, “out there” meaning physical or material things, people, etc. I had an epiphany in my early twenties that I felt deep in my soul; that I would never be satisfied with life. Ever.

Sure I looked for it in every place possible, jobs, relationships, the “geographic cure,” etc. when all along it was inside me. But I didn’t know what I didn’t know… you know?

I was also thinking about your dialog with Sara above, about “stepping out of character.” From experience, I’ve learned that when I’m starting to feel uncomfortable with something, I’m being presented with an opportunity to grow. In the past, I’d run. Now, I embrace it and see what I can learn from it. Could be as simple as being uncomfortable in a crowded elevator or walking back into McDonald’s because they got my order wrong in the drive through. ;-)

Jared’s last blog post..What Is Love to You?

David May 8, 2009 at 7:45 am

In the past, I’d run. Now, I embrace it and see what I can learn from it. Could be as simple as being uncomfortable in a crowded elevator or walking back into McDonald’s because they got my order wrong in the drive through.

You are a wise man, Jared.

Talan May 14, 2009 at 12:43 pm

Hello, Rapturist. Ever read the StarDance trilogy, by Spider Robinson? You might enjoy it.

Shine it all around.

David May 14, 2009 at 12:53 pm

Hi Talan. No, I haven’t. What is it about?

David’s last blog post..A Definition of Freedom

Passing Guest August 14, 2010 at 3:03 am

Since it looks like that was never answered, may I jump in?

“Stardance” is a wonderful sci-fi trilogy by Spider and Jeanne Robinson. The third book, “Starmind”, mentions a “rapturist” movement–it’s the opposite of terrorism. :)

Actually, I was searching for mentions of the idea when I found your site! :)

Brenda May 17, 2009 at 1:19 am

“All man’s miseries derive from not being able to sit quietly in a room alone.” — Blaise Pascal

That was my wow moment too, only I’ve never seen the quote before. This article was so damned good! I not only got a wow, I got a chuckle from your depiction of early man’s predicament, trying to stay alive. A wow, a chuckle, and a smile — that’s good writing, my friend. I want you to know that I totally stole your cat quote and put it on my blog with a link to this page. You can click below and see it. Thank you, David. :)

Brenda’s last blog post..On Cats

David May 17, 2009 at 3:23 pm

Hey, thank you Brenda. I’m glad you are enjoying Raptitude. Stick around.

The picture in your post made me laugh out loud, honestly. As graceful as they are normally, cats lose their cool in the water.

Kaushik July 31, 2009 at 4:05 pm

Hi David,

Great article. We’ve certainly lost our way in serving the ego, which is all about control. Charles Eisenstein deals with this very convincingly, making the case that ever since the advent of agriculture, we’ve been in “control” mode, and this is unhappiness script. It might have happened as a survival technique, as you say; however, there are still indigenous hunter-gatherer tribes which are happy and resonant with nature.

At any rate, it’s about releasing fear. And what’s left is love.

.-= Kaushik´s last blog ..How to Stop Compulsive Thoughts: Letting Go in Four Steps =-.

David July 31, 2009 at 4:29 pm

Hi Kaushik,

Yeah I don’t mean to put down hunter-gatherers, I was just trying to say that we’re only superficially removed from the animal kingdom, even though we wear pants. Finally we’ve created infrastructure that allows us not to be as impulsive and uptight about security and resources, so we’re able to transcend the suffering those impulses cause, with a little work.

Quakcery August 3, 2009 at 6:51 pm

This is a old and dis-proven evolutionary psychology theory. Modern scientific evidence suggests that the cause of depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain that, unlike diseases like Schizophrenia and Bipolar disorder, is not genetic or psychological.

David August 3, 2009 at 9:59 pm

I did not mention depression. This whole article is about the acute angst we suffer so easily and the reasons behind it.

MGL August 17, 2009 at 7:29 pm

Changing behavior and skill sets is definitley the way to go.

modern prodigy August 19, 2009 at 12:51 am

ok i’ve fatedly ran into this website as an American, now on vacation in China, ’cause i’m chinese…, because after several recent events i’ve really wanted to make my own website to post my own experience and hope they enlighten the world … especially people who are in developing countries like China to understand and learn to find happiness in this modern day world.

therefore i wanna check out similar websites/blogs and what do you know, here i am.

i find this writer quite talented in his ability to put into words his thoughts and ideas and revelations, and not just any words, but words filled with ‘happiness’

although i am much younger and my vocabulary is not as rich and well connected as David, but i hope to soon launch my own personal blog regarding these aspects of life… which interestingly revolves around the same common questions, like happiness, fear, love, life in general…

Veda August 19, 2009 at 8:20 pm

Yes – I do agree that ‘happiness’ is the natural state of human mind and that its distrubances are temporary.
“Aananda’ the eternal bliss as in olden Hindu Indian thought is the highest philosophical bliss sought after – and that is advised to be attained through a minimizing of Egoism and subjectivity and a maximizing of ‘service to others and better still service towards causes’ per se.

Beth L. Gainer August 31, 2009 at 9:20 am

This is an excellent, well-written posting of concepts I hadn’t quite considered in that way before. I come from the school that happiness is also a choice. We choose our happiness, and if we are unhappy, we are allowing ourselves to be so. It is OK to be unhappy in dire circumstances, but it’s also important for the person experiencing these things to reflect on what he/she has to be grateful for.

Also, happiness is an effect, not a goal. The problem arises when some people strive for happiness — often in the form of material possessions and social status — but of course, they eventually fall short. Living one’s life the way one wants to, following one’s own moral compass helps achieve the aftereffect of happiness.

I look forward to reading your future postings. And I’m subscribing to your blog now.
.-= Beth L. Gainer´s last blog ..I Just Fired My Baby’s First Pediatrician =-.

David August 31, 2009 at 11:39 am

Hi Beth, thanks.

That’s right, happiness is more of a byproduct than a goal in itself. Reaching right for it creates attachment, which creates suffering. As Admiral Ackbar would say, it’s a trap!

Thanks for your comment, hope to hear from you again soon.
.-= David´s last blog ..What I Learned From My Stint in The Traveling Reptile Show =-.

sandspace September 22, 2009 at 11:13 am

I am so glad that you came up with such nice post.
However, we should not forget that ‘survival’ is still the prime motive in many under developed world. It is easy to say that ‘quality-of-life’ is the focus, hailing from a well developed nation.
The Best Happiness comes from spreading Happiness. So I suggest that instead of gobbling up natural resources in the name of ‘quality-of-life’, let us be sensitive and spread happiness … which definitely seems to be your mission.

Dray February 6, 2010 at 12:30 pm

Insightful and compassionate. In my over half-century as a human I have observed as well as suffered from my own habit of unhappiness. This essay makes me feel like one of the advance guard in a long fight to turn the attention of the human species to aims higher than survival. My highly personal struggles to live up to my own values seem a lot more meaningful in the perspective of species evolution. Thank you so much for this post and for the thought, beauty and honesty of Raptitude.

Reed March 1, 2010 at 1:20 am

As somebody who grew up privileged and unhappy with a love for psychology and evolutionary science, I’ve thought the same thing for a year now. I’ve waited a while for somebody to say something like this, and I remember discussing something similar with my therapist. This is probably a large reason that people become so addicted to drugs. Without some outside help, it is damn near impossible to overcome evolutionary responses such as this. This aspect of human beings lead the Greeks to believe that only Gods themselves were capable of attaining happiness.

David March 1, 2010 at 8:47 pm

Hi Reed. It’s nice to hear somebody who is completely on the same page.

This was the first article I wrote for Raptitude, and I have some misgivings about the way it’s written, but I still think the main point is completely true.

Interesting note about the Greeks. That’s something to think about, thanks.

Alex March 3, 2010 at 1:34 pm

How blessed you are to have a friend like Kim. The love you both share is like rain in a drought of discontent. It’s that love that will safeguard your heart from the mind’s cruel wanderings.

David March 3, 2010 at 1:58 pm

You’re absolutely right Alex. As much as I value self-reliance, it is much easier to bear the rough parts of life when you know without doubt that there are people who will always love you.

Dario April 10, 2010 at 3:19 am

hi there, up there, my friend……

how do you do?

wanna big kiss on a cheek?????

kelcey April 14, 2010 at 9:58 pm

Wow its nice to see the author of an article sticking around to comment. Although the pursuit of happiness has been my research project of late i have yet to come upon this perspective; it makes so much sense! Honestly as you said just knowing what stops us from being happy is a big step into becoming compulsively happier. Awesome article and i hope to stumble upon more of your writings in the future.

hll June 29, 2010 at 5:40 am

just forget everything. and forget to desire to remember. that’s the best way to be happy. nearest we can get is distraction. fill th mind with something else, something hopefully consistent, like maybe an om or mental screensaver that yo might take years to learn how to put in place and kep in place, such as a single flower image burning into the mind’s eye’s here and now. that’s what has ben said to work beore. but cannot relinquish all the things tht hurt and worse lack the courage to accept them.

David N.S July 6, 2010 at 6:33 pm

dude you have an awesometastic mind and i love the place the place that you can take it, i wish you all the best and hope that you have many more of these utopianic ideas

Casper Roseewater January 30, 2011 at 2:16 pm

Re: Why Happiness is Such a Struggle?

I don’t dispute what you write; it kind of makes sense and I’d like to refer others to it to augment understanding. I was just wondering if you know of any evidence that might indicate this might is true. It would seem to fall into the school of Sociobiology which is somewhat controversial.

David January 30, 2011 at 3:35 pm

Hi Casper. This is the first piece I ever wrote and I have my misgivings about it. But the truth of the concept is self-evident to me.

The only evidence I have is the first-hand kind, which can only ever be personal experience. Many people reject everything but second-hand, corroborable empirical evidence from people in labcoats. I used to reject everything for which there was no citeable study. Maybe there is, one in this case, I’m not sure. I tend to go by direct experience now, at least as much as conclusions from scientists funded by people whose motives I don’t know. I’m not anti-science, I just think there is also value in interpreting first-hand experience alone.

I don’t know about you, but I feel a distinct, pervasive sense of “this is now quite okay,” and I have had to learn to accept that as a part of mother nature’s toolkit and sometimes act in spite of it.

Steve March 31, 2011 at 5:04 pm

What I find most troubling is how western culture has an outlook of the world as total work; of work-for-work’s sake. We need to foster an atmosphere is society that allows for more than just material progress. We need a degree of the classical world view which viewed both useful work and philosophical work as vitally important to the full development of man.

In short, more people need to read things like Josef Pieper’s Leisure: The Basis of Culture.

Kent April 11, 2011 at 7:04 am

This explains why I’m much happier when I’m actively learning something new. I’ve lost jobs because there was nothing new to learn and I got bored and depressed. I used my last break from university classes to teach myself to juggle. It all makes sense now.

Gabriel June 11, 2011 at 5:36 pm

I stumbled to your “Six Amazing Songs That Illustrate What it Means to Be Human” post. I was skimming through reading the and listening and when I came across Lives by Modest Mouse I stopped dead in my tracks (MM has been for a long time my favorite band and I particularly have always loved the beginning lyrics to the song Lives so your post stole my attention instantly) I saw the link to this page there and hopped over to read. This post and that post are profound to say the least. I wished to compliment you, for you have a unique way of observing and explaining things. (Honestly after reading those posts I assumed you were either a major in Sociology Psychology or both.) I also wanted to say that this post has made me exceedingly hopeful, often times I’ve pondered about why happiness is so hard to achieve I always thought it was something within us but I never figured out a reason why. I also coulnd’t think of anyways to combat it. So thanks, I’m going to end this comment now, its become far too long.

josh September 18, 2011 at 12:16 am

Hello there, i hit my stumble button and it took me here. I usually read a sentence and move on when i hit these types of blogs. anyways this week has been crazy and i was feeling pretty stressed out. bills, a business, family, life in general was just hard this week and after reading all the way to the last line i felt calmer… happier. I have sat here for a moment now and analyzed why i feel calmer. (especially after seeing so many others say the same thing) I believe the reason for the calming effect is because we (most of us) are at that point in evolution where we know that love and calmness are more benificial to us as a species and your words help others to remember that. Once we think about it and know that it is true to ourselves Tada! you feel in control. that control = happiness. thats just me. Thanks.

OliOli November 15, 2011 at 5:23 pm

I love the comment about not being happy sitting in an empty room. (It’s too late in the day to find the quote). That is a great point, because although some people might see it as a great personality trait to be happy with anything (I don’t, necessarily), it wouldn’t make evolutionary sense. The will to strive for more, but in relation to that, to interact with people is important for our survival so it’s a natural impulse for that reason as well as the more basic human urges!! Another good article, thanks!

Haley January 24, 2012 at 9:47 pm

Hi David,
I’ve read a lot of your posts at this point, and I’ve probably come across this post before, but I found it again while I was searching your blog for a perspective-changer to make January seem a little less oppressive. I noticed something new this time: you talk about how humans have only scratched the surface of our new found power to love…have you written a post about that yet? If so, which post? And if not, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

joe May 28, 2012 at 7:28 pm

You have no evidence to prove ‘cavemen’ experienced a lesser quality life than us.

I’d like to make the point that they probably enjoyed their life & time more intensely than ‘we’ do. Since peace was such a comfort (according to yours and the rest of the evolutionists theory) they would have appreciated it more. That’s a very common sense statement, and applies to anything in life. The less of a resource, the more it’s worth.

Really though, it’s silly to even mention pre-modern man species. They do not exist anymore, their behavior cannot be studied or can their actual brains.

You’re composing a piece based on very, very little evidence on the actual life style of our long dead ancestors.

Are you going to write about how dinosaurs liked to play hopscotch in their spare time too?

This is the first post of yours I have read, I’ll continue to read a few more because I think you’re a good writer and I think you and I share a similar perspective… I hope they aren’t as dense as this though.

Good luck on finding the truth with the rest of us.

David May 28, 2012 at 7:49 pm

Hi Joe. I’ll do my best to respond to your comment without reacting to the snide tone of it.

I wrote this over three years ago. It was the first article I ever wrote, and I no longer have the same impression of early human quality of life. I think it was generally better than that of modern westerners. More leisure time, much less status anxiety, no religious authorities telling people how to live.

No, we can’t study the behavior of prehistoric people but there is a lot of physical evidence suggesting how they lived and it’s not exactly a giant question mark to researchers.

Misconceptions about “cavemen” notwithstanding, the central point of the article is still true — dissatisfaction (and consequently, the need to change something) will always arise if one waits long enough, and that incessant pushing is what moves us through life. If you don’t think so, sit still in a quiet room for an afternoon.

Cheese and Rice July 25, 2012 at 3:44 am

Whilst I agree with most of this article, I do think that credit should be given to where it is due and that is to Jesus who said “Love thy neighbor like thyself”, and the “Golden rule” which are not recent concepts as you propose in this article.

David July 25, 2012 at 7:07 am

Yes they are, if we’re talking about the timeline of evolution. 2000 years is nothing.

Ramon August 7, 2012 at 3:47 pm

Hi David: I just ran across a response I wrote to your blog ‘somewhere’ on March, 2011, and it won’t come up on various word searches. I presume it was a comment on this posting, but who knows? So I’ll try posting it again
(with a few tweaks):
Posted to Raptitude
Ramon March 6, 2011 at 3:53 pm
Instead of ‘happiness’, let’s use Candice O’Denver’s term ‘resting.’
According to her view, everything arises in our awareness/clarity as ‘data’—
all positive-negative-neutral points of view, all emotions, dukkah, whatnot. If we don’t attach to them, they dissolve on their own because they have no independent reality outside pure awareness, which she now calls ‘Open Intelligence’.
Actually the ‘I’ has no independent reality outside pure awareness, so there is no one to be ‘happy,’ ‘enlightened,’ ‘suffering,’ etc.
The only thing I add to Candice’s excellent teaching is that “Resting in clarity” (awareness, open intelligence) can be accessed through ‘the self-arising, resonant breath.’ To explain further:
What physical condition accompanies resting? Watch a dog. When it lies down to rest, it first sighs deeply (perhaps to blow away any loose dust or dirt from in front of its nostrils). Then as it relaxes even more deeply, it begins a resonant, relaxed breath. This resonant breath is something we all do when asleep. It resonates the soft palate and also the trachea, that stiff, hollow tube that brings air into the lungs. At its most relaxed, it produces the snore and, in most cats, the purr. This also vibrates the upper aorta that snuggles up close to the trachea where it enters the heart, and through this contact, also transmits the vibration to the blood. That is why, after three or four good purrs (or snores), my fingers and feet begin to tingle pleasantly as the ‘snore’ vibration reaches my extremities.
I identify this tingling sensation as positive feedback telling me that
all lateral tensions in my body have been dissolved by these vibrations.
I described it further to a http://www.greatfreedom.org trainer (who thinks I’m over-complicating things) as follows:
It’s all about soothing energy, isn’t it? I access soothing energy on various levels of being — spiritual, mental, emotional, physical, but the main thing for me is not to forget to include the body — that good old body, it just trundles along doing its best for me despite the way I ignore it. When I relax into awareness I check the body, and often I find there’s a tense muscle in one hip, or else some other armoring — lateral tension — that needs soothing. Of all the ways I’ve found to deal with soothing these lateral tensions, the resonant breath works the best because it duplicates the total relaxation of the sleep state — but while I’m still awake to ‘enjoy’ it.
Okay, these approaches may seem limiting or overly simplistic, but body states so often impact mental/emotional states. If I deal with tensions on the physical, the rest of me takes care of itself.
So I then ask myself, how much relaxation can I learn to tolerate without drifting off into wondering ‘what’s for supper,’ etc. What level should I recognize as “deep enough” to just enjoy and not attempt any deeper relaxations? As a benchmark, I’ve selected the post- orgasmic ‘afterglow’ that usually lasts only a half-hour or so if unattended to. However purring — breathing resonantly into that afterglow — allows it to continue indefinitely, the only limitation being the ‘what’s for supper’s’ that come along and distract me back to my usual ‘set point’ – my operational level of soothing energy to which I’ve become habituated over lo all these 70+ years. So in a sense, to ‘rest more thoroughly than I am habituated to’ requires at least tuning into — and encouraging — the self-arising resonant breath. It’s not so much about making a conscious effort as it is allowing the body to trigger its own releases by encouraging what it does on its own when it rests.
Over these past years I’ve found that I can dissolve armorings easily with the purring breath that resonates the blood stream all the way out to the capillaries in the fingers and toes, dissolving all tensions that block the ‘flow.’ What a delight! And for me, it doesn’t complicate Candice’s ‘short moments of awareness’ approach, but instead harmonizes well with everything I’ve learned from http://www.greatfreedom.org. I just don’t want to leave any part of the being behind — neither the body, the mind, the emotions, the spirit!
Let me end with a quote from Candice:
“The Power Is In Awareness
“Awareness has the ultimate sense of humor. And so you know, it’s important to relax and be gentle with yourself. Awareness is in all points of view. You can’t really say that it’s only this or it’s only that. That’s impossible. Awareness can only be talked about in a way that includes everything. In other words, when there is a complete openness of communication between all points of view, all data. So this makes it easy.
“First of all, you don’t have to change. What could be easier than that?…”

Rita Kothauer August 10, 2012 at 2:13 am

Refreshing! I can’t help but think of the hippie agenda of the seventies, love and peace. It would be so great to give it another try today. This explains a lot about the negativity I see every day. And the Tea Party.

kenji October 26, 2012 at 11:47 am

Hi David,
I understand that as humans we were made to be unhappy, to want more. My life is real struggle and I don’t know how to be happy.

Jo November 13, 2012 at 8:52 am

Totally agree with your thoughts of unhappiness as aN essential impetus for human survival and success :) reminds me of this quote by Thomas Edison: “discontent is the first necessity of progress”.

Also, I think that there has been overwhelming emphasis on staying happy especially since the boom of the self-help industry a couple of decades ago. Like, it becomes sort of a mandate. For instance, if you’re not happy, society diagnoses you with a problem. It seems as though our scope of normal emotions are becoming increasingly confined to happiness, based on society’s expectations. It’s normal to be sad, frustrated, angry for many reasons including those in this post. However, media + society does dictate to varying extents, what emotions are permitted.

Furthermore, I believe the persisting feelings of dissatisfaction is a consequence of consumerism as well. Concepts such as ‘planned obsolescence’ motivates our need for more and more of stuff that may actually be redundant. It’s worth googling :)

In all, although I do not have any empirical evidence or whatever, I believe social expectations and norms do have a large part in shaping most of us (whether we know it or not) and it’s pretty messed up if you really think about the implications. Also, profit driven developments in today’s consumerist climate, do mess around with our definition of needs and wants, and thus our emotions.

Anyway, props to David for this site! finding sites like this is like sifting for gold in the mud.

janet March 22, 2014 at 12:05 pm

I just came upon your site and – oh wow – you are so calm and inciteful. Have only read a few so far but – hey ‘I think I’m in love.’
ha! ha! – ‘do you have a brother?’ and can anyone tell me – w h e r e Are the men out there who think with their ‘h e a r t’ as well??
Beautiful Stuff David – I’m going to Thunder Bay for tea!

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