eckhart tolle teachings

Why We Are Unhappy

As miserable and demoralizing as it may be, our unhappiness does serve one useful purpose: it motivates us to change ourselves, ideally, hopefully, in a positive and evolutionary direction.


How recently have you felt unhappy, deeply unhappy? Do you find that when you feel unhappy, you want nothing more than to wrestle yourself from its grip and experience happiness again? Unhappiness can feel like an imprisonment, and interestingly, there are many people who feel or believe that unhappiness is a punishment of some kind. This is very far from the truth.

Unhappiness can be traced to one of a number of causes, but none of them have to do with punishment, and no one deserves to be happy. Here are the basic causes for our unhappiness:

The Pain-Body. If you have been studying these teachings for some time, you may already understand that much of our unhappiness arises from the pain-body. The pain-body is a historical collection of painful experiences – physical, emotional, mental and relational. If you notice that you are often made unhappy by the same situations or people, you can be quite certain that the unhappiness you feel is really about something that happened in the past that a current experience has triggered. Unhappiness, then, is often a painful memory being relived in present time.

Ego-Identification. When someone asks you who you are, you often respond with a description of where you're from, what you do, the groups and people you are affiliated with, and even what your goals and dreams are. As accurate as this assessment may be, everything about you that can be described in this way is not who you REALLY are. Who you really are is being itself, pure being, free of identification with any earthly phenomenon. This is very difficult for most of us to grasp, and most people in the world never even seek out this distinction. In essence, there are two of you: an egoic self that allows you to live in the physical world and interact with other people, and a conscious self that animates your ego with awareness and presence. The more you identify with the egoic self, the more unhappy you will be, for true happiness is experienced to the extent that you are in contact with your conscious presence, with your being nature.

Past and Future. Whenever you are out of alignment with the present moment, you will suffer. Whenever you deny the Now in any way, you will experience the pain of separation from your true nature. Your true nature -- your conscious self -- and happiness itself reside always in the present moment. You often live in the present moment through the eyes of your emotional past or the worries of your imagined future. Presence is a state that not only transcends these limitations of past and future, but also frees you from fear, anxiety, doubt, uncertainty, distrust, disappointment, delusion, despair, depression and suffering. So much of our unhappiness is born of negative memories of the past or pessimistic projections into the future.


The next time you find yourself in an unhappy state, try this experiment:

Give yourself a few minutes to sit somewhere quiet and close your eyes.

Focus on your breathing. You can breathe normally or take long slow breaths, especially if you are feeling anxious.

Continue to pay attention to your breath, letting the thoughts go.

When thoughts do arise, notice their content. This might give you a clue to the nature of what's upsetting you.

As you continue to breathe, bring your conscious awareness to your feet. Feel your feet as if you were inside your feet.

Then feel your legs, fully with your whole awareness.

Feel your hips and the sensation of sitting in the chair.

Feel your abdomen and back with your whole awareness.

Then bring your attention to your heart. Feel your heart and as you do so, fill your heart with your complete attention.

Rest there, in your heart, continuing to breathe. Allow your body to be filled with peace.

This will help you come into the present moment and into your presence of being.

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