I love Ecclesiastes. For a book of the Bible, It’s just so raw. Solomon, supposedly the wisest man to ever live, puts bloggers to shame with reflections like,
“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”
And for being part of the Bible, it’s not something you’re likely to hear in church.
And that’s why I love it so much. Solomon doesn’t sugar-coat anything. He faces his sadness.
“For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.”
The wisest man in history was unhappy. He felt like something was missing.
I know a lot of people from all walks of life who feel this way.
Sometimes life gives us really good reasons to be sad. Sadness may be the healthy, natural emotion for something going on in your life or the life of someone you know. Sadness is part of life. But what about when we feel sad and there isn’t a real reason for it?
For the purposes of this article, let’s assume that “unhappiness” is not depression (see the note at the end) or sadness spurred by something in particular, but more of a lingering feeling. Bertrand Russell considered unhappiness to be a state of mind “from which most people in civilized countries suffer, and which is all the more unbearable because, having no obvious external cause, it appears inescapable.”
Unhappiness has been a concern of writers and researchers from Solomon to present day, and researchers who have discovered a number of interesting correlations between unhappiness and the way we live.
Want to overcome unhappiness? Here are a few mistakes you might be making.
1. You’re not practicing gratitude
G.K. Chesterton wrote: “You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.” Grace to Chesterton was more than a meal prayer. It was gratitude for the chance to experience life. And yet in a culture that is constantly telling us we’re not enough or don’t have enough, being appreciative of people, things and experiences can be unfamiliar or difficult.
Studies have shown that practicing gratitude can have measurable effects on happiness. During one particular study, “Participants were given one week to write and then deliver a letter of gratitude in person to someone who had been especially kind to them but who had never been properly thanked.” This extra effort beyond feelings of appreciation resulted in participants being measurably happier than the control group for an entire month!
Your gratitude has the power bring happiness to others and to yourself. And maybe even to God.
2. You’re not getting enough exercise
For a religion that believes the world was perfect when humankind ran around naked in a garden, we sure spend a lot of time indoors sitting down and not moving. It’s helpful to remember that our bodies are spiritual. Happiness on some level is tied to chemicals in the brain, and when we make choices that hurt our bodies, it can create an unhealthy mental environment as well.
Another study revealed that “patients who did the equivalent of 35 minutes’ walking, six days per week, experienced a reduction in their level of depression by 47 percent.” Exercise prompts physiological changes in your body that will make you feel different. God gave you a body and wants you to use it. Thirty-five minutes is less than 4 percent of your waking hours.
So as a famous sports brand likes to say, “just do it.”
3. You aren’t connected with a higher purpose
In the midst of a Holocaust concentration camp, Viktor Frankl noticed that people who found purpose in their suffering often survived longer than those who did not. When he was freed, he published a book called Man’s Search for Meaning. In it, he claims that the fundamental drive in life is to find meaning—not only on a personal level, but on a transcendent level. He believed in a higher form of meaning and that true happiness comes when we respond to that meaning’s challenge for us in any given moment.
Martin Seligman, one of the world’s top-cited psychologists, says, “Well-being cannot exist just in your own head. Well-being is a combination of feeling good as well as actually having meaning, good relationships and accomplishment.”
After writing extensively about resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul ends on this note. “With all this going for us, my dear, dear friends, stand your ground. And don’t hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for Him is a waste of time or effort.” (The Message). After encouraging people that death is not the end, Paul’s natural response is to spur his readers to act—to contribute—to have purpose and aim. Resurrection doesn’t mean we wait for a better life and world, but contribute to making it happen now. When we work toward something meaningful, something changes in us, too.
Note: Dealing with depression?
One article isn’t able to wrestle with all the layers of sadness in human life. Sometimes, no matter who you are or what you do, genetics and imbalances in the brain will lead to depression. If you’re contemplating suicide or can’t seem to escape a spiral of unhappiness, you may be unhappy for reasons outside of your control. Please find help. There are tons of compassionate professionals out there whose entire career is dedicated to helping people like you. Don’t feel guilty or ashamed. And don’t wait.
Chris once said, ÒIÕll never be a pastor.Ó Now heÕs in seminary and learning that God has a sense of humor. You can see more of his writing at christopherabel.com and his ramblings on Twitter.