If You’re Unhappy, You’re Normal

I want to start by saying something that might sound surprising: if you’re unhappy, you’re normal. Yes, that’s right! Stick with me to the end of this article. I’ll share why this is true and how it can change your perspective on pain and happiness.

The Common Quest for Happiness

Many clients come to me asking, “How can I get and stay happy?” or “Help me get rid of this pain.” This request is natural and understandable. After all, who wouldn’t want to be happy and pain-free? I’ve been there myself many times. But here’s the crucial point: being unhappy AND wishing to avoid unhappiness is part of the human experience. However, the more you try not to have pain and discomfort, the more you have it.

The Roots of Pain and Pleasure

From a biblical perspective, pain and struggle began upon the fall of humankind in the Garden of Eden. Rather than trusting and relying on God for total satisfaction, Adam and Eve opted in to Satan’s temptation to place themselves at the center of their pleasure and contentment. Sin entered the world. Since then, humans sought pleasure and avoided pain. This tendency can be beneficial, like avoiding physical danger. For example, the brain’s hardwiring protects us, prompting us to remove our hands from a hot stove or escape a burning building. Our brains refined these survival responses over thousands of years. We should thank God for equipping our fight-or-flight system.

However, this natural tendency to avoid pain can sometimes work against us, especially when it comes to emotional pain.

Society’s Happiness Obsession

Our culture constantly bombards us with the message that happiness is the ultimate goal of life and that any deviation from this state indicates a problem. We learn early on that feelings like sadness, anger, and anxiety are undesirable. Some religious communities may even imply that struggling with these emotions means you are out of sync with God. This societal pressure to avoid negative emotions has hijacked our natural safety systems, so the urge to eliminate unhappiness is so strong and seemingly justified.

However, this reflex can be misleading and even damaging because it opens the door to unhealthy influences that lead us away from God and our core values.

Embracing Normal Pain

What if being unhappy is not only normal but also biblical? Imagine how different your life might be if, instead of fighting against your pain, you accepted it as a natural part of the human experience—normal pain. Here are three reasons why this is important:

1. Biblical Examples of Struggle

The Bible is full of stories of God’s chosen people experiencing intense physical, emotional, and spiritual pain. David, Jeremiah, and Paul (just to name a few) all went through despair and anguish.

  • David: In Psalm 22:1-2, David cries, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?” David often expressed his deep sorrows and struggles in his psalms, yet he remained a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14).
  • Jeremiah: Known as the “weeping prophet,” Jeremiah experienced profound sorrow and despair, as seen in Lamentations 3:19-24: “Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
  • Paul: In 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, Paul speaks of a “thorn in the flesh” that caused him great anguish. Despite his pleas for God to remove it, God responded, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul concludes, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

Yet, through their struggles, these individuals drew closer to God, relied on Him, and fulfilled His purposes. Pain, therefore, can be a pathway to deeper faith and reliance on God.

2. Pain and Care Are Linked

Our most significant relationships and pursuits in life bring both joy and pain. Whether it’s our Christian journey, relationships with loved ones, or meaningful goals, pain intertwines with what we care about. Eliminating pain would mean not caring about what matters most to us.

  • Jesus’ Teaching: Jesus acknowledged that we would face trouble in this world. In John 16:33, He said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
  • Peter’s Insight: In 1 Peter 4:12-13, Peter advises, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”

Imagine a life in which you no longer cared about the Gospel, your relationship with Jesus, your family, and other values. Sure, it’s crossed your mind. It has crossed my mind. “It would be easier if I didn’t care.” But would we genuinely want that life? We would have to stop caring about what we care about, not to experience the pain we have right now. However, we’d soon realize this isn’t an equal trade. The result would be more pain, not less.

3. Emotions Are Temporary

Emotions are transient—they come and go. No feeling, whether happiness or sadness, is permanent. Emotions are like the weather, constantly changing. Moreover, they come as a package deal: to experience joy, you must also be open to experiencing pain. To know peace and calm is to know fear and anxiety.

  • Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens… a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.”
  • Romans 12:15: Paul advises believers to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn,” recognizing that our emotional experiences are diverse and transient.

We are created in God’s image, meaning we experience an emotional spectrum. Unlike Christ, humans are imperfect, and we often respond sinfully to emotions. However, like Christ, our emotions are vital to our relationship with God and values. I invite you to consider your emotions and feelings as information pointing to your values versus facts or definitions of who you are.

Conclusion: Normalizing Your Pain

If you’re not happy, you’re normal. Even if you go through extended periods of pain, this doesn’t mean you’re defective or that your pain is wrong. It doesn’t define you or make you a bad Christian; it simply makes you human. Your pain is enough as it is; you don’t need to add negative judgments or labels on top of it. And if you do, that’s normal, too.

Trying to achieve and maintain constant happiness is an unrealistic and rigged game. The next time you feel sad, angry, or any other painful emotion, remember that this is a normal human experience. And if you can, try to acknowledge what you care about that’s connected to your pain. This awareness can help you navigate your emotions with greater compassion and understanding.

Ask for Help When You Need

This blog entry is about normalizing psychological pain and adversity in life. I believe we are at our best mentally, physically, and spiritually when we let go of the agenda of fixing our pain and turn towards learning to have our pain AND our values. What I am not saying is that you should never seek help if you are struggling with challenging emotions or prolonged periods of sadness, anxiety, or depression. You absolutely should, especially if your quality of life is suffering. It’s essential to seek support when you are hurting.

Embrace the Full Range of Emotions

Also, I am not saying that, as Christians, we should only seek pain or we are somehow spiritually proficient if we willingly subject ourselves to painful emotions and deny anything pleasant. To be sure, we have every reason in Christ to be glad and hopeful! Instead, it’s vital to welcome the full spectrum of emotions. Paul captures this beautifully in 2 Corinthians by identifying the paradox of Christian life. Paul says we are to be “sorrowful yet always rejoicing.” I encourage you to read chapters 5 and 6 of 2 Corinthians for the full context and picture of expressing joy in Christ during pain and suffering.

Reflection

Consider how your approach to pain and unhappiness might change if you see them as normal parts of life rather than problems to be solved. How might this perspective shift your relationship with God, yourself, and others? I invite you to continue this important conversation about embracing our full range of human emotions with someone you trust.