Friday 6 December 2019

Unhappy phases of life - what are they for?

Looking back, I have had periods of life in which I was unhappy; indeed I was unhappy for most of my post-adolescent, adult life until I married. In particular the period in my late twenties, early thirties - and overall it just kept getting worse.

I had nothing much to do in life, except do what I wanted to do; to seek happiness in whatever way suited-me - and that was pretty much my philosophy-of-life (albeit that it included quite a few traditionalist constraints that I was, apparently 'stuck with').

But I could not (except briefly) be happy, and then only on the surface - the baseline state (my deep mood) was of futility and loneliness. Underpinned, as it was, by false and self-destructive assumptions; no matter what I tried (stick, or twist), 'life' didn't work - for one reason, or another.

God was in fact doing me a big favour, in making me unhappy. I was unhappy because my life was inadequate and far away from its destined track, and aiming further away.

So, in retrospect; the worst thing that could have happened to me was that I would succeed in doing what I aimed at doing; which was to find a way of being happy in what was for me the wrong life.

In particular, it would have done me no favours to be successful at inhabiting the kind of amoral, self-gratifying, selfish-hedonic nihilist role that I so-often was aiming-at. As I said: I wasn't very successful at dropping my 'inhibitions' - they got in the way of the ideal of hedonism; but that was my covert long-term strategy. 

By contrast, when I joined the proper track for my life; I was always deeply fulfilled and happy; whatever surface miseries and sufferings might dominate.

It is nothing to do with perfection of life! It is Not about having 'found' the truth. It is - in essence - about living a life in which one is learning from experience. And these experiences are not - ultimately - cumulative. It is more like a daily, or hourly, life of attaining true insights - even if, as often happens, these insights are forgotten, or slip from my grasp. Even on the right path; we may not get noticeably better as persons, but nonetheless we are learning.

I would now conceptualise this trajectory as learning from experience; which is why we are here, in this earthly mortal life.

But learning from experience is - literally - the hardest thing in life.

The reason (and this is what I failed to grasp, for so long) is that with the wrong assumptions we have the wrong aims; plus, with wrong assumptions, we cannot learn.

It took me about a dozen years or more to begin the (daily) process of learning from adult life; because it took that length of time even to begin fixing the false (and getting ever-falser - errors feeding-off themselves) metaphysical assumptions that had been incrementally undermining my life from adolescence.

Chronic and cumulative underlying unhappiness was, I now see, the predictable outcome of year-upon-year of failing to learn from the predictable consequences of my chosen beliefs. To cure the unhappiness without curing its cause would have done me no favours at all; and I am glad that I never succeeded in doing so.


James Higham said...

"God was in fact doing me a big favour, in making me unhappy. I was unhappy because my life was inadequate and far away from its destined track, and aiming further away."

In a nutshell. When we go off on our own tack, support systems are not in place. The message is clear for those who would see it.

David said...

We seem to have experienced similar life trajectories. I used to be v prone to depression as a younger man in mid-early twenties. A spiritual seeker without a home and plagued by nihilistic tendencies. Hedonism didn't work, albeit briefly. Finding a close partner and then a wife and children AND becoming a Christian changed everything! I now live with an abiding joy in life and feeling of wholesome satisfaction with how life is broadly unfolding. Yes, there are ups and downs and significant sorrows/problems that keep presenting themselves but I am increasingly able to view them as learning opportunities and NOT as evidence to overturn my most beneficial and hard obtained adjustments to my metaphysical assumptions, that make life robust and enduringly meaningful.

It is no doubt v controversial from a worldly Perspective but my conviction was, whilst working as a professional CBT therapist, the whole thing was *largely* doomed to failure to treat chronic unhappiness/misery, precisely because examination of metaphysical assumptions was *forbidden* and encouragement of considering new spiritual perspectives *forbidden* as a means to enable people to finder a deeper, longer-term satisfaction and meaning in life. Instead, non-judgemental, tweaking of surface thoughts, feelings and behaviours was imagined adequate to establish wellbeing. A bit like plastering over a structurally damaged building and pretending a new gloss of paint will make lifes deeper problems and questions go away. And so, eventually, I felt I had to go, since being a Christian and allowing that to influence my work, was, well, it was *forbidden.*/taboo/keep it to yourself even with Christian patients. Be objective, non-biased, and of course that is exactly what leftist Atheist are able to do so well?! Their metaphysical perspectives don't influence their practice. It is only religious or spiritual 'prejudice' that does that...hmmm...

Bruce Charlton said...



I saw Cognitive Therapy unfold from the early 1980s; and in general regard it as grossly oversold and mostly ineffective (any impressive - rather than marginal, results are obtained by very careful patient selection plus publication bias).

But If It Did work, as intended; it would surely be at considerable cost to the client - because a person who used CT strategies habitually would resemble the old Mr Logic character from Viz: e.g.

i.e. a person utterly lacking in spontaneity and common sense.

David said...

Haha I haven't encountered Mr Logic before but I do particularly enjoy the surreal and satirical Viz adverts! I might be tempted to share a Mr Logic comic with my Vulcan/Spock minded militant Atheist friends, but I don't want to play into the Hands of the devil and deepen the resistance to a change of heart, for said parties, by resorting to returning mockery with mockery 'an eye for eye' is tempting though and amusing to contemplate :-) It may well be that life will teach such people the hard way to reconsider (as we both did), or else, they never will. I like to think that after death, when it becomes 'beyond all reasonable doubt' even for a doubting Thomas, such people will experience a powerful and spontaneous change of heart and repent with joy that nihilism is false. But, as we know , people can doubt the nose on their own face for an eternity...IF they WANT to do that...

Schleume said...

I didn’t get, how feeling better has something to do with becoming a Christian. What changes? Is it „just“ the metaphysical assumptions? Can those assumptions be made without religion?
I ask, because I considered myself a non-religious person. I wouldn’t go so far as saying atheist, because I always thought, that believing that God doesn’t exist is just another religion, which believes in the absence of god... well, never mind.
But now I‘m almost 40. An the last 5 or so years got worse and worse. I came though to recognize, that God exists. It struck me 3 years ago at 30.000 feet sitting next to a propeller. From there I slowly found a kind of evidence that god exists. Everything started to make sense. I don’t see it as being religious, though. It just is. The thing is, that I cannot relate myself to this insight. I guess it’s because of years of doubt, that makes it hard to find myself in the idea, that God exists and that I’m a child of God as every living and non-living thing in the universe is. But I miss something, otherwise I would (most likely) be d’accord with what you are writing.... Any advice?

Bruce Charlton said...

@S - Its too big a question for a blog comment - that's the subject matter of most of this blog over the past decade, trying to understand these things. Maybe what you miss is at the level of what life is for, the detail of what you are meant to do, meant to achieve - how this is 'communicated' to you by God - getting away from the usual idea tthat life is nothing but mechanical determinism mixed with randomness.