Do You Resent Happy People?

Once upon a time there was a bird that lived in a cage in dark shadowy room; then one day his cage was moved outside.

For the first time he see birds flying free. He watches them dive through the air, sing and play; he sees small birds wrestling in trees, large birds cooing and pecking one another. The caged bird is astonished.

What are they doing? They should be in cages.”

He tries to ignore the free birds but everything about them vexes him.

“How shallow and irresponsible they are!

He scrutinizes the way they fly and play, even their lovely singing is torture to him.

“They should be punished!”

When he returns to his dark shadowy room, he sighs with relief; never questioning the bars on his cage or considering a life beyond them.


When I share this story with group therapy patients, their response is always incredulous:

“The bird doesn’t know any better’.”

“He didn’t chose to live in a cage.”

“He has no options. It’s not his fault.”

True, there are times in our lives when we all have cages; schools, jobs, even our family can sometimes feel like a form of imprisonment. But after we move out into the world, the cages we take with us are of our own making — and the material we use for the bars is fear.

When fear holds us back , we lose passion for life. We bypass the unknown for the familiar, avoid taking chances, stop exploring new activities or pursuing new dreams. Like the caged bird, we may feel safe, but are we really living?

Each time we vanish into lackluster routines, settle for unfulfilling jobs or relationships, or abandon new interests — our cage grows smaller. We don’t consider other ways of being. Rather than reflect on our choices or attitudes, or consider alternatives, we hunt for scapegoats. In this way, happy people are always targets for the miserable.

Here are a few phrases I’ve heard in therapy sessions:

 “I hate seeing couples holding hands and smiling.”

“When I see children playing in the park, I want to kick them.”

“I can’t stand whenever my friend tells me how much she loves her job. She’s so full of herself.”

Yes, misery loves company. But why do unhappy people resent happy people so vehemently? Among the top reasons I’ve observed are:


  1. Happy people represent something missing from our own lives.

  2. Happy people put us in touch with our own abandoned hopes.

  3. Happy people rouse buried feelings of loneliness and despair.

Though we may gather comfort from judging others, it is a bitter pleasure that never lasts. After twenty years working as a psychotherapist, I can tell you this: no one stumbles into a happy life. Lasting happiness takes time to construct. It is a painstaking journey, filled with peaks and valleys, but one you wouldn’t want to pass up. In the end, only those committed to on-going growth and self-improvement can savor a truly satisfying life.

So next time you find yourself resenting someone who appears more fortunate than you, remember the caged bird. Then take your resentment and convert it into energy for growth. Rather than fuel powerlessness though blame, ask yourself “How can I get some of that?” and “What steps can I take to make it happen?”