Why is the world so unhappy

Why we find unhappy people more interesting

Unhappy people may be an imposition, but not boring. The lucky ones, on the other hand, lack imagination.

Would you rather spend an evening with a happy or an unhappy person? Most shouldn't think twice. But as quickly as the choice is made, namely the good-humored, such encounters often feel fleeting. Interest threatens to slip away from satisfied, tidy people. They are at peace with themselves and the world, which one cannot blame them for. Nevertheless, there is a suspicion that the blissfully smiling ones are insufficiently informed.

Michel Houellebecq, the author who takes the pose of the permanently depressed so well, knows that there is nothing to laugh about. The title of his new novel is great: «Serotonin». It was precisely the lack of the happiness hormone that made him write. The book was also published in good time. In January, being unhappy is especially celebrated. The new year with its tasks rises like a mountain in front of you, the feeling of well-being in the brain has ended in the party frenzy of the turn of the year.

still waters run deep

But back to the original question. I'm not talking about being unhappy because the brain doesn't produce enough of the messenger serotonin. As with Houellebecq's heroes, this could be remedied with pills. Rather, what is meant is the brooding, doubting emotional being that is repeatedly "on the peaks of despair". This is what the philosopher Emil Cioran called the soaring of thinking into the abyss. I imagine someone like him, who spent days in the cemetery, smoking between graves, to be a very stimulating company.

Because: Isn't it the case that people who only know one mood, namely a good mood, are boring, honest and well-behaved? They call themselves "happy", and with such Anglicisms one has to be suspicious. Happy are like believers: they can hardly believe their luck. You have more answers than there are questions. But when happiness solidifies into a state, the happy become unbearable. Happiness has to be bright, loud, hot, twitching, dangerous and short. If everything is the same, the result is the mediocre level of satisfaction. To hell with heaven.

Happy are like believers: they can hardly believe their luck. You have more answers than there are questions.

This is why unhappy people are so demanding. They ask what this and that means, looking for the meaning. You imagine the worst things; on that is their grief. You are imaginative. However, being happy is nothing more than a lack of imagination.

Is there a lucky artist who deserves the title? You fell asleep over your books, ran out of the cinema, banished your music to the elevator. Who would you rather interview: Paolo Coelho or David Foster Wallace? Helene Fischer or Amy Winehouse? David Hasselhoff or Robin Williams?

The second named are all dead because they no longer wanted to live.

And thus contribute to the myth of the unhappy person, to which I also follow here. It may be easier to look down on those who are satisfied than to be truly satisfied. By celebrating being unhappy as an attitude, one also suppresses how difficult some tortured people are and how contagious. People prefer to stay away from those who only complain and radiate gloom.

It may be easier to look down on those who are satisfied than to be truly satisfied.

That means: unhappy people are only interesting if they don't take themselves too seriously. "Nothing is funnier than misfortune," said Samuel Beckett. And added in brackets: "Of course, different."

Maybe that's why the lucky ones at the table are so cheerful.

NZZ editor Birgit Schmid writes weekly about interpersonal relationships in her column “In every relationship”.