So you want to know how I am? Well that old rugby injury feels like I’ve been stabbed with a panga, I’m sure my boss is Adolf Hitler’s granddaughter, my immigration papers for Australia have been rejected and I’m stuck here in the hellhole they call South Africa. The truth is I know things aren’t that bad. They’re a whole lot worse!!!


Abraham Lincoln said that we are about as happy as we make up our minds to be. Why then, so often, do we make up our minds to be acutely depressed? Whinging and whining seem to give us a masochistic pleasure. We embellish our tribulations as much as our triumphs. Having a demanding boss, is really ‘working for a tyrant’. Running a few extra errands is ‘a day from hell’. A cold is ‘flu’. Waking up with backache, is ‘not being able to get out of bed’. And emerging from a tough hour or two from the gym is a massive transcendental experience as in the phrase, ‘I’m dead’.


Looking at life through a drain grid of despair certainly has its rewards. There’s that wonderfully soothing ‘Ag shame’ look that tells us someone gives a dam. (Even if inside they’re plotting a quick escape). Ever since our mothers answered our wails of despair with a soft milky breast, we’ve known that when all else fails –  a melancholic treatise on the dismal state of the economy/relationships/Joburg night clubs and the price of designer jeans, might just save the day. Adversity elevates our status.  A cursed fate might be unpleasant but it turns us into tragic heroes, slaying dragons and nobly having to fix broken washing machines.


But there is another more insidious reason why suffering is so appealing. Let’s face it, happiness is just not cool. Micky Mouse, Heidi and over-smiling motivational speakers all have two things in common. They might go to bed happy every night, but they’re not winning any awards for style. Now Edward Norton and Brad Pit in ‘Fight Club’, bashing each other into a pulp and waxing lyrical on how inane life is, that’s hip. Gangsta rappers threatening to do obscene things to your mother, that’s A1, Laddish British pop stars trashing their hotel rooms in fits of adolescent angst, that’s ‘Wicked!’

Smile a lot and talk about the wonderful colours in the rainbow and people are bound to think that you’re, well, stupid. If you’re happy, the reasoning goes, it must be because you don’t have the intelligence to realise how bad things are. It’s the complex and interesting who suffer. The upbeat are too simple minded to know any better.


So if suffering takes such intelligence why aren’t there Phd’s in it? I can imagine whole Unviversity departments dedicated to educating our young citizenry into proud upstanding miseries. There’d be Negative thinking 101, tutorials on how to destroy your self-esteem, perhaps an honours thesis on ‘Winning enemies and putting off people’ and if you’re really brilliant you might be able to do post-doctoral research into the ‘7 Habits of Highly Defective People’.


The truth is happiness takes far more intelligence than agony. Sigmund Freud, (the greatest psychologist that ever lived, anyone who says different just doesn’t like reading about sex.) As I was saying, Freud said there were two ingredients for happiness – work and love. Now if those two were as easy too achieve as they are to pronounce there wouldn’t be a fifty percent divorce rate and Monday mornings wouldn’t have such a bad rap. Fulfilling work and a nourishing relationship takes considerable skill. Ignorance isn’t bliss, it’s agony. To be happy in work and love and virtually any other area of our lives takes self-awareness, perception, prudence and focus. In a phrase it takes emotional intelligence. And that is just not something that we’re born with. It’s a slow process of trial and error, reading, listening and learning. But one thing is certain its more than worth it. Moping might have a perverse appeal in the short term it might even win you kudos in grunge rock circles but its just not as fun as being happy. How do you become happy? As I said it takes acquirable skills, but one thing’s for certain, it doesn’t happen by putting suffering on a pedestal.


© Justin Cohen


Justin Cohen is an international speaker, trainer and author. For more personal development resources go to