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February 1, 2011 / Man in the Mirror

What Makes People Unhappy

Animals are happy so long as they have health and enough to eat. Human beings, one feels, ought to be, but they are not, at least in a great majority of cases. Teach yourself the art of reading faces; make yourself receptive to the moods of those whom you meet in the course of an ordinary day.

“A mark in every face I meet,
Marks of weakness, marks of woe – Blake”

Though the kinds are different, you will find that unhappiness meets you everywhere. Stand in a busy street, or on a main thoroughfare, or at a dance; empty your mind of your own ego and let the personalities of the strangers about you take possession of you one after another. You will find that each of these different crowds has its own trouble.

The causes of these various kinds of unhappiness lie partly in the social system, partly in individual psychology-which, of course, is itself to a considerable extent a product of the social system. To discover a system for the avoidance of war is a vital need of our civilization; but no such system has a chance while men are so unhappy that mutual extermination seems to them less dreadful than continued endurance of the light of day. To prevent the perpetuation of poverty is necessary if the benefits of machine production are to accrue in any degree to those most in need of them; but what is the use of making everybody rich if the rich themselves are miserable? Education in cruelty and fear is bad, but no other kind can be given by those who are themselves the slaves of these passions. What can a man or woman, here and now, in the midst of our nostalgic society, do to achieve happiness for himself or herself?

I believe this unhappiness to be very largely due to mistaken views of the world, mistaken ethics, mistaken habits of life, leading to destruction of that natural zest and appetite for possible things upon which all happiness, whether of men or animals, ultimately depends. These are matters which lie within the power of the individual.

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